By Jonathan Isaby
1am update: David Cameron's remarks to The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup don't exactly suggest a burning will to win. See here.
11am update: ConHome appears to have jolted CCHQ into some action. At 10.44am the Candidates Department sent an email to those on the Candidates List entitled "Can you help Kashif Ali and his team in Oldham East and Saddleworth?" and inviting them to assist the campaign as all MPs were yesterday...
I really hope the answer to the question in the title above is yes - and I would be delighted to see any evidence seeking to prove me wrong. Please email me if you have any.
But I am detecting increasing concerns from various quarters that the party machine is not putting its all behind Kashif Ali's campaign to win the seat in which he was less than 2,500 votes behind the winning candidate in May.
Many of those I have spoken to fear that CCHQ has decided not to fight Oldham East and Saddleworth seriously in order to maximise the chances of the (second-placed) Lib Dems gaining the seat from Labour.
My evidence is twofold.
In previous by-elections - many of which saw the Conservatives beginning in a far less auspicious position - MPs were instructed that they were expected to make a certain number of trips to the constituency to campaign. Yet the email message sent out by the Government Chief Whip to his colleagues yesterday made no such demands:
"Kashif Ali is the Conservative candidate in Oldham East and Saddleworth. Kashif, who was the candidate in May's General Election, has made this election a genuine three horse race. There are just 2400 votes in it. Now he needs your help. His team are already working hard across the area, knocking on doors and delivering leaflets.
"Andy Stephenson, MP for Pendle is the campaign manager and wants to encourage colleagues to support the campaign. Please contact Andy for further information or the two campaign support coordinators..."
Even more shocking to me is the fact that those who were on the pre-election Candidates List have not heard a peep from CCHQ about the by-election. Again, in similar previous contests, those on the list - and selected candidates for that matter - were effectively told that unless they made three trips to the seat to campaign, their commitment to the cause would be questioned and their chances of remaining on the list and/or finding a seat would be diminished.
The lack of communication with those on the Candidates List about the campaign for the January 13th by-election is even more astounding given that between now and the end of March CCHQ is assessing all those very people on the pre-election list who want to remain on it.
The first criterion by which those applicants are being assessed is "energy and commitment", so I would have thought that the powers-that-be would be using the by-election as a prime opportunity to judge that, gaining an army of campaign volunteers in the process.
I would have suggested that CCHQ has consciously not told the Candidates List about the contest as some kind of elaborate initiative test, but for the fact that in recent days I have spoken to several ex-candidates who have tried to offer their campaigning services and not yet been taken up on their offers.
Anyhow, in the absence of any communication from CCHQ, ConHome hereby fulfils its public service duty by announcing that should you want to do your bit for Kashif Ali, you should call Caroline Dickinson on 01274 363000 or email her.