Conservative Diary

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The Cabinet discussed last week how to help the Lib Dems win in Oldham East and Saddleworth

By Jonathan Isaby

LibCon-rosette-with-shadow Last week I questioned whether CCHQ was taking the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election seriously amidst concerns brought to me by many that the party wanted to maximise the chances of the Lib Dems gaining the seat from Labour.

I repeated this concern in a report on yesterday's Today programme, during which Baroness Warsi insisted that the party was taking the campaign "extremely seriously".

So I am shocked and unnerved in equal measure by the news in today's Independent that the Cabinet last week discussed how to maximise the Liberal Democrats' chances of winning the by-election.

The paper's political editor, Andrew Grice, reports:

"Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative International Development Secretary, is believed to have called on his party to do everything possible to help the Liberal Democrats beat Labour in the 13 January contest.

"The by-election was discussed when the Cabinet reviewed the Coalition’s strategy for 2011 on Tuesday, The Independent has learnt. There was a brief “political session”, without civil servants present, at the end of the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

"Cabinet sources say David Cameron and other ministers did not disagree with Mr Mitchell’s remarks. But some of his Tory colleagues were angry and surprised because – in public – the Tories insist they are fighting to win the by-election in what is seen as a three-way marginal."

"The Cabinet talks will infuriate Tory traditionalists, who suspect that Mr Cameron would be happy for the Liberal Democrats to win the Oldham East contest. A week ago, he said he “wished them well” in the by-election but insisted the Tories were fighting to win it."

As it bids to repair the country's economy, the Coalition has my full support, but it is vital that its two constituent parties retain their independence and continue to fight all elections as separate entities. The party leadership should not forget that 79% of Tory members want to see the Conservatives governing alone rather than in Coalition after the next general election.

> Nominations closed for the by-election yesterday and you can click here to see the full list of candidates.


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