By Ray Fleming

WHILE political commentators, including this one, have been tying themselves in knots trying to predict the outcome of the complex Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election on Thursday, the “Old and Sad” electorate has been telling the ICM pollsters that Labour will win with 44 per cent of the vote, the Liberal Democrats will get 27 per cent and the Conservatives 18 per cent.

At the general election Labour won by a whisker from the Lib Dems with the Conservatives quite close in third place.

If these figures are confirmed at Thursday's poll Nick Clegg will be able to heave a sigh of relief that his party's involvement in the Government coalition has not damaged it as greatly as many people expected; national polls of voting intentions have shown Lib Dem support as low as ten per cent.

However, David Cameron may have to take criticism for allowing, or actually encouraging, a low-key Conservative campaign in order to avoid pushing the Lib Dems into third place. Such are the machinations demanded of coalition politicians but, of course, there is no possibility of such tactics being followed at a general election. Other polling results showed 55 per cent disapproving of the coalition and 39 per cent approving; although by 63-33 per cent voters agreed that public spending cuts are necessary, 74 per cent said they are “too quick and too deep”.