Labour win deals blow to coalition

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Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams arrives at the count of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election (AP)

The coalition has suffered a bloody nose in its first by-election as Labour romped home in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Debbie Abrahams was declared the winner of the contest with a majority of 3,558 – larger than the party secured in its 1997 landslide.

The Liberal Democrats played down the significance of the defeat, stressing that parties in government rarely perform well in by-elections.

But the margin of Labour’s victory will heighten the pressure on Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Labour leader Ed Miliband will also seize on the strong showing after what has been seen as a faltering start at the party’s helm.

Labour activists had voiced optimism after a mild afternoon in the constituency pushed turnout to a respectable 48.06%. And by midnight it had become clear that their candidate had triumphed, with the Lib Dems trying to limit damage by predicting a “decent second” for Elwyn Watkins.

The ballot was called after an election court declared last year’s contest void due to Labour victor Phil Woolas making false statements about the Lib Dem opponent Mr Watkins.

Despite finishing just 103 votes behind Labour in last May’s general election, polls last weekend found Mr Watkins trailing by a massive 17 points. In the event, Mr Watkins polled 11,160 votes to Ms Abrahams’ 14,718. Tory Kashif Ali came a distant third with 4,481.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said it was always going to be a “big ask” for his party to win the seat, and insisted the coalition was making the “right choices”.

Victorious Labour candidate Ms Abrahams said: “The voters have spoken for the country. They have sent a clear message for those watching in Downing Street. Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg, you may be watching but now you have to listen.”

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