by Ray Fleming

IT will be interesting to see what the bookies make of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election which is to take place in England on 13 January. This is the constituency narrowly won by Labour's Phil Woolas at the general election but taken from him by the High Court for having made false personal attacks on his Liberal Democrat rival, Elwyn Watkins. Woolas won by just over 100 votes and the Conservative candidate was not far behind. Normally this would be seen as a three-horse race but, of course, two of the runners come from the same owner and stable-- the LibCom coalition. Yesterday David Cameron seemed to go out of his way to say nice things about the Liberal Democrats and their candidate who is, again, Elwyn Watkins. But, on past form and in a normal situation the Conservatives have almost as good a chance of winning as either of the other two.

So, how will the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats conduct their campaigns -- by ignoring the other's presence and focussing on Labour's shortcomings? Labour's task is easier -- a curse on their shared coalition house. And as if the plot were not complex enough already an Ipsos Mori national poll has just shown that the Liberal Democrats are doing very badly indeed -- a further loss of three per cent to take them to eleven per cent support, the party's lowest rating for nineteen years.

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