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Both governing parties deserve to be punished for Tory by-election pull-out

Posted on 2 January 2011 | 8:01am

I know that we are into a new and different sort of politics, what with two parties forming the government and all that, but the bigger of those two parties really is taking the mick in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Both parties deserve to be punished as a result.

It takes a fair bit for me to feel sorry for a Tory, but it is hard not to feel some sympathy with the Tory candidate, Kashif Ali, who has effectively been thrown to the scavenging Lib Dem wolves.

From David Cameron down, the message is clear – we will say we are pulling out the stops for poor old Kashif, but we’re not really, and for heaven’s sake don’t do anything that looks remotely like an organised campaign. International development minister Andrew Mitchell seems to have gone further, saying they will do all they can to help the Lib Dems.

Back in the days before Nick Clegg decided that being deputy prime minister was more important than any principle, or any promise made in opposition, Lib Dems used to love a good by-election. They lived for them. They won a fair few of them too, not least by engaging in the kind of tactics that saw Labour MP Phil Woolas stripped of the seat.

So it is all a bit pathetic to see the PM so worried about the declining status of his deputy that he has to help out the Lib Dems in case the vote undemines Deputy Clegg any further.

But in doing so, they are effectively saying to the voters in this three-way marginal that they don’t count for much. A party that sets out to lose clearly does not deserve to win; but nor does the party their shabby approach is seeking to help.

And poor old Clegg cannot see that what the Tories are really up to is being in a position to say, however badly they do next Thursday, that they didn’t expect anything better because they were trying to help the Lib Dems. And if the Lib Dems do badly, well, it just adds to the ‘poor old Nick’ feeling which, a few years down the track, is exactly what Cameron wants to be surrounding his nominal Number 2.

So what with the Tory VAT rise coming in the build up to the vote, and a good Labour candidate in Debbie Abrahams, there is every chance the Tory tactic will backfire. It certainly deserves to.

  • Jude Robinson

    Well said, Alastair – don’t we all get hacked off at Lib Dem by election tactics? But isn’t it sad they work? My Lib Dem opponent in a council by election in Cornwall is running the line ‘It’s so close between the Liberal Democrats and Tories.’ – you wouldn’t think they’d want to brag about it, would you?

    • Quinney

      The LibDems tried that “Labour can’t win here” tactic around here in May…….and were well beaten. They deserve the same in Yonnerland on the 13th.

  • Nicky

    As you say, AC, both parties deserve to be punished for this tactic.

    The thing is, the foot soldiers and supporters of each party (as opposed to the cabal in government) don’t like it either. Local level LibDems, despite their track record for being all things to all men (and women) to hoover up votes in by-elections, bitterly resent the way their party has been hijacked into becoming an off-shoot of the Tory party. Meanwhile, on ConHome, there’s been calls to go in and help Kashif Ali’s campaign and no little disgust that Tory high command has evidently decided he’s expendable. It’s not as if Ali was a no hoper – his share of the vote in the GE was fairly respectable.

    If they think they could get away with it, the ConDems would stitch up the whole election process to try and keep Labour out. That would be an outrageous assault on democracy. However, the trouble with that cunning plan is that their own supporters would hate it. Tories are already bemoaning the fact that they don’t recognise their own party and are threatening to vote UKIP. The LibDems are facing near oblivion and are horrified about their reputation and credibility being in shreds.

  • Terry Taxi119

    David Cameron is in a win win situation as you alluded to. I can’t stand Clegg, but never saw him for a fool. He’s in a position now where he’s being played for a fiddle and I can’t see a way out for him without the collapse of the coalition.

  • Sarah Dodds

    Are we going to see this as a cosy arrangement for all by-elections before the next general election? And what about the General Election itself? I think the Tories may well leave the Liberals hung out to dry at that point.
    I’m looking forward to Thrusday.

  • Quinney

    I’m that sad I watched the tuition fees debate yesterday on the Parliament channel. I actually felt some sympathy (not a lot) for the LibDems that stood by their pledge and there was a good speech by a tory MP who used to be a teacher who voted against. John Denham was superb and the all opposition parties spoke well with real passion. Few toires spoke but one from Hampshire let the cat out of the bag by saying there’s now too many at university, in other words it should be for those who can pay.
    And they say they care about the poorest….

  • Richard

    Are you the same Alastair Campbell who worked so hard for that wonderful specimen of democracy, Gordon Brown, to form a minority coalition Government with Clegg?
    If you were to read your own bloggs over that period you might actually start arguing a consistent line, rather than the “I’ll be the Vicar of Bray” line you are currently purveying.

  • Mattjohnkerr

    You hit the nail on the head here. Tory behaviour is not worthy of a vote, and Lib Dems should be punished for their comiplicity in the tactic.

    Good point about Lib Dem tactics too. Phil Woolas may have been out of order, but I couldn’t believe it when Simon “straight choice” Hughes turned up on the evening news, after the verdict, to tell us how shocking the situation was.
    It beggars belief that they would put Hughes up to discuss this!

  • I don’t know the Labour candidate. I wish her well and hope she is a lot straighter than her predecessor. My gut feeling before the Tories pulled out was that Labour would take a beating (unfairly) because of Woolas, that the Lib Dems could not win because of the anger at Clegg (again very unfair on the candidate) and that the Tories never did stand a chance in that neck of the woods. The seat was begging for a really good independent candidate, but nobody was forthcoming. I wouldn’t mind a side bet that the Monster Raving Loony Party get their best count ever as a protest and another for the lowest turnout ever in this constituency. New politics? My arse!

  • Olli Issakainen

    The Lib Dems are a minority party in a centre-right coalition. The coalition is about to dismantle the welfarist social democracy created in 1945.
    Mr Clegg has placed the future of the coalition above the future of his own party. The “Maoist revolution” of public services will be hard to reverse.
    The Lib Dems have a new identity. They are now a party of individualism and small-state liberalism.
    Social liberal tradition and social democratic inheritance have been abandoned.
    The pain of being in a coalition is not equally shared. The Lib Dems are now down to 8% in the polls.
    There is no more much talk of pacts or mergers. Only about one in five Tories want the coalition to go on and on.
    The Lib Dem brand has been tarnished. Cleggmania has gone with the wind. Speculation on the new leader has already started.
    More than 70% of the Lib Dems´ supporters think themselves as on the left.
    The Tories´ free ride must end in 2011. Labour did not create the deficit by overspending on public sector. Tens of billions of cuts are ideological aiming at smaller state. The Tories do want to cut!
    Big Society will not work.
    As Jackie Ashley wrote in the Guardian, main cause of the economic crash was global. And last government´s record was not as bad as the coalition propagandists claim.
    According to British Social Attitude report public satisfaction under New Labour increased a lot when it comes to health and education. Thanks to New Labour investment.
    Support of the coalition is down from 59% to 43%. The cuts are too fast, too deep and unfair. Poverty and inequality will result. And unemployment.
    Labour must come up with CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE for growth, jobs and tax justice.
    Labour´s narrative must be that not all cuts are necessary and that banking crisis caused the “mess”.

  • Bh Max Headroom

    @ Olli Issakainen
    Excellent post eloquently written and well thought out.

  • Anonymous

    spot on Olli

  • Dave Simons

    The Vicar of Bray would have supported the present coalition. Please re-read the song – it’s too good to misrepresent.
    There must be a lot of us who regret that a minority coalition government (even of the defeated) was not formed last May, since anything, apart from a government of Nick Griffin’s thugs, would have been preferable to a return to the effective Tory government that we’ve ended up with. Former Spectator editor, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, not exactly a bolshie, wrote an entertaining and readable book a few years back called ‘The Strange Death of Tory England’. I thought at the time that the title was optimistic and unfortunately I was right.
    As for your apparent chronic need to vilify Gordon Brown I suggest you read his book, ‘Beyond the Crash and seriously ask yourself whether Cameron, Clegg or Osborne would be capable of writing a comparable paragraph of it. I’ll predict that in 2011 a lot of the media lynch mob, whose incessant clamour was successful in persuading people like you of Gordon’s incompetence, will be changing their tune and saying that actually he did have some good ideas.

  • Frettaky

    ” not least by engaging in the kind of tactics that saw Labour MP Phil Woolas stripped of the seat.”

    Wasn’t it Woolas’ actions that saw him stripped of the seat?

  • Richard

    I suggest that you re-read “The Vicar of Bray” : the point is that “The Vicar of Bray would have supported the present coalition”……or any other Party! Geddit?
    Make no mistake, only Gordon Brown persuaded most of us of his utter incompetence………and who persuaded the PLP and most of the Party members of it?

  • Dave Simons

    I think it would help if you made some attempt to explain clearly what exactly you are trying to put across. The only message I get is ‘Labour is the cause of all our troubles, and Gordon Brown in particular’. This is the orthodox coalition line, and I doubt if even most Tory ministers, in their rare moments of honesty, believe it. I know for a fact Vince Cable doesn’t, but then he has written a book which matches Gordon’s. Perhaps if you support your spleen-ridden statements with a few facts it might persuade people that there is something there other than an Andrew Marr blogger stereotype.

  • Julie

    Glad I wasn’t the only sad viewer of BBC Parliament that day…