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Tory MPs fear Bercow's delay of 'Woolas by-election' will favour LibDems

By Tim Montgomerie

In the Commons yesterday the Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, said that he would not be calling an immediate by-election in OIdham East and Saddleworth. He is giving time for Mr Woolas to appeal. This, The Telegraph notes, was what his wife, Sally Bercow, had urged him to do, on national television, on Sunday.

The Daily Mail is furious:

"Instead of ordering an immediate by-election, Speaker John Bercow decides Mr Woolas should first be allowed to exhaust the appeals system. Once again Parliament seemingly looks after its own, and to hell with the Oldham electorate which the ex-Labour minister so wilfully deceived. If Mr Woolas had a shred of decency, he would have fallen on his sword after last Friday’s devastating verdict, the first of its kind for 99 years. What a pity that when he failed to do so, Speaker Bercow (who was urged by his unelected, Labour-supporting wife to go soft on Mr Woolas) did not swiftly end this sorry saga."

Screen shot 2010-11-09 at 08.43.00 Some Tory MPs see the delay as a gift to the Liberal Democrats. First leaflets in a campaign are important for setting the nature of the race. The Liberal Democrats were out in force at the weekend with a leaflet (on right, taken from Twitter) arguing that the by-election would be a two horse race between the Labour party and the Conservatives. In fact it could have been a three horse race. The LibDems have slumped in the polls since the election and the Tories were just 2,500 votes shy of victory in May.

CCHQ has not been active in the seat yet and this has raised fears - noted by Paul Goodman on Sunday - that the Tory leadership wants to give Nick Clegg an opportunity for a morale boosting win for his party.

Another few days and it might be impossible for the Conservative candidate to prevent LibDem momentum and the turning of the by-election into a straight Lab v LibDem contest. Oldham East, one unhappy Tory MP told me at the weekend, is exactly the kind of seat we need if we are to become a majority party. We cannot, they said, afford to surrender it to the Liberal Democrats.

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