Tories promise by-election 'fight'
The Tories will fight hard for votes in Oldham East and Saddleworth ahead of next week's by-election, the Prime Minister has vowed.
David Cameron rejected claims that the by-election would be a referendum on the coalition Government and denied his visit to the constituency was a "token" gesture.
He spent the afternoon in Oldham with Tory candidate Kashif Ali leafleting door-to-door before visiting a car body workshop in the town, where he chatted to mechanics.
There had been speculation the Conservatives would allow the Liberal Democrats a clear run at the seat to give Nick Clegg's party a much-needed win and morale boost after the party took a hit over the hike in university tuition fees. The Deputy Prime Minister has decided to target the seat, which the party's candidate Elwyn Watkins missed out on by just 103 votes at the General Election.
But the winner, Labour former minister Phil Woolas, was stripped of his May victory after a court found he deliberately misled voters with his campaign literature, prompting next week's by-election.
Mr Cameron insisted the Tories were not backing away from the contest. His presence in the constituency as the first Prime Minister to campaign in a by-election since 1998 was proof the Conservatives were taking the fight seriously, he said.
"First of all, find me a Prime Minister in the last 10 years who has been to a by-election. They did not go," Mr Cameron added. "It is about choosing a new MP for Oldham and Saddleworth, it is not a verdict on Nick Clegg or the coalition or anybody else. They (Labour) had an MP who behaved appallingly and was quite rightly stripped of his place."
Mr Cameron also gave his full backing to Mr Ali. He said: "I would like people to vote for Kashif Ali. He's a very good candidate. He was born locally, educated locally and lives locally. I think he has done a very good job and I think the response I have been getting has been very positive about him and his positive campaign."
Earlier, Labour leader Ed Miliband said the scale of Government cuts was "not an inevitability" but a political choice. He declared: "No other country is cutting at the rate we are and that should give you a clue to the fact that this Government is not, as they claim, pursuing a centre-ground agenda."
The full list of candidates in alphabetical order are: Debbie Abrahams (Labour); Derek Adams (British National Party); Kashif Ali (Conservative); Peter Allen (Green Party); David Bishop (Bus-Pass Elvis Party); The Flying Brick (Monster Raving Loony Party); Loz Kaye (Pirate Party of the United Kingdom); Stephen Morris (English Democrats); Paul Nuttall (UK Independence Party); Elwyn Watkins (Liberal Democrats).