Cameron denies by-election pact

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Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech to delegates at the regional growth fund road show in Manchester

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed the Tories will fight hard for votes in next week’s by-election and rejected claims it will be a referendum on the coalition Government.

Mr Cameron denied his visit to Oldham East and Saddleworth was a “token” gesture and said he was breaking with political convention in being the first Prime Minister to campaign at a by-election since 1998.

Both coalition parties have denied suggestions they had struck a deal, with the Conservatives, seen as outsiders, going easy in the campaign in the hope of a Liberal Democrat victory.

“First of all find me a Prime Minister in the last 10 years who has been to a by-election. They did not go,” Mr Cameron said. “It is about choosing a new MP for Oldham and Saddleworth, it is not a verdict on Nick Clegg or the coalition or anybody else. They had an MP who behaved appallingly and was quite rightly stripped of his place.”

Mr Cameron was asked about his “extreme warmth” towards his party’s Liberal Democrat opponent in the political fight and whether the relationship was too “cosy”. “I have had meetings with our candidate Kashif Ali,” Mr Cameron said, “Apart from taking some type of laid back attitude, I’m the first Prime Minister in over a decade to visit an English by-election, this is a challenge for political historians.”

Mr Cameron, speaking at the regional growth fund road show in Manchester before travelling to the constituency, added: “I will be on the streets of Oldham and Saddleworth, campaigning for our candidate Kashif Ali. We will be fighting very hard for every vote.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Wednesday made his second visit to the constituency, saying his Liberal Democrat party was “here to win”.

Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins was just 103 votes short of unseating Labour’s Phil Woolas at the general election last May, making the constituency one of Mr Clegg’s top targets. Mr Woolas was removed as MP by the courts because of misleading leaflets he put out during the general election campaign.

Labour leader Ed Miliband visited Oldham on Monday to support candidate Debbie Abrahams, his second visit of the campaign.

The full list of candidates in alphabetical order are: Debbie Abrahams (Labour); Derek Adams (British National Party); Kashif Ali (Conservative); Peter Allen (Green Party); David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party); The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party); Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom); Stephen Morris (English Democrats); Paul Nuttall (UK Independence Party); Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats).

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