ldham East and Saddleworth may be a three-way marginal, as Mark Seddon commented yesterday, but it seems that the Tories — and David Cameron in particular — aren’t too keen on the idea of winning it, even if they have confirmed that they’ll fight it. For so say two leading Tory blogs, Conservative Home and the Spectator Blog Coffee House.
Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman (who, like Labour’s Siôn Simon, quit as an MP in May to become a blogger) quotes “senior backbenchers” who, he says, explain the PM’s logic as follows:
The Prime Minister’s political priority is to keep the Coalition together. It’s hard to see the Party pulling out of the arrangement. It’s easier to imagine the Liberal Democrats doing so: one doesn’t need to list the rows that have taken place over VAT, student finance, housing benefit, the immigration cap and so on to prove the point (though some of the Government’s biggest disagreements, such as those over prisons policy or the EU, are concentrated within one of the Coalition parties, the Conservatives, rather than between them). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party – as the Conservative Party is not – and Nick Clegg ultimately has to heed his MPs and members.
And, the argument goes, the Lib Dem’s badly need a fillip to offset their current appalling showing in the polls. Paul Goodman, a harder man than his leader, believes that, since the Coalition won’t collapse even if the Lib Dems do lose a by-election, he wants the Tories to fight to win.
James Forsyth, deputy editor of The Spectator is more in tune with his leader:
The longer we go before a date is set for the Oldham East and Saddleworth general election rerun, the better it is for the coalition. This delay allows the Tories to give the Lib Dems a head start; Nick Clegg’s party can pour resources into the seat while the Tories do very little until a date is set.
There will be a Tory candidate in this election, but I doubt that a Tory victory would be a cause for celebration at CCHQ or in Number 10. The Tory leadership knows that a bad result for the Lib Dems would make their coalition partners jumpy and make it harder for the coalition to govern effectively. A confident Liberal Democrat party would make Cameron’s life a lot easier than one more Tory MP.