Ed Miliband has used his latest visit to our area to urge Labour supporters to make sure they turn out and vote in Thursday’s by-election. He also defended his decision to appoint the now-disgraced Phil Woolas to his frontbench team.
It’s the third time Mr Miliband has joined Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams since the by-election was called. Dozens if not hundreds of activists from the different parties have descended on Saddleworth today, for the final weekend of campaigning before voters make their decision.
Mr Miliband told Saddleworth News: “If people stay at home, if people think ‘well I’d like to have Debbie Abrahams as my MP, but I’m not going to bother to turn out’ then the danger is they end up with an MP who actually supports things like the VAT rise, like the police cuts. The stakes are too high in this by-election to stay at home.”
Shortly after he became leader, Mr Miliband chose to keep Mr Woolas as Labour’s spokesman on immigration, even though the election court hearing into his controversial leaflets had already taken place. Our former MP was later suspended by the party, when High Court judges ruled he’d broken the law by making false statements about his Liberal Democrat opponent.
Today, Mr Miliband defended his initial decision: “I think it’s right in this country that we practise the principle of people being innocent until they’re proven guilty. The court’s made its judgement on Phil, we’re now looking to the future.”
He continued: “We’re looking to the question of who we have representing this borough in this seat, it’s a very very important seat, it’s a very important by-election. And that’s why I’m supporting Debbie so strongly because she’ll stand up for the people of this borough on the issues that matter to them.”
The Labour leader was today visiting the Crompton home of a college student worried about the government’s decision to increase tuition fees. The coalition has blamed the last Labour government for leaving a huge deficit, but Mr Miliband accused the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats of “an attack on the future of our young people.”
He said: “Whether it’s the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, the trebling of tuition fees, or the abolition of the future jobs fund. And we’re the people who are standing up and saying ‘we’ve got to get the deficit down, but we’ve also got to create an economy, a society, a country, that is fit for our young people.’”
The bookies have made Labour strong favourites to win the by-election, but Mr Miliband shrugged that off: “I’m fighting for every vote. I don’t think the voters of this borough want to be taken for granted, and we’re certainly not taking them for granted.”
He then emphasised one of the topics which has featured strongly in the Labour campaign: “I think policing is becoming one of the defining issues of this by-election, because it goes to the cuts that are being made, and the fact that they are harming frontline services. It goes to the promises that were made before the election, that policing would be protected. And it goes to the issue of our communities and the safety of our communities.”
Mr Miliband was also asked to comment on last night’s comments from Jack Straw, who said some British Pakistani men see white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse. The former Labour minister was reacting to a case in Derby which concluded yesterday.
Mr Miliband said: “The case in Derby was obviously a terrible case, appalling sexual crimes against young girls, and it’s absolutely right the full force of the law is brought against the perpetrators of those crimes, and any other crimes that are similar. We should root out any practices like that, any criminality like that, in any community we find it in.”
He continued: “That said, we’ve also got to be careful not to give people the impression with remarks that might be taken out of context that we are making generalised remarks about communities. Let’s root out the problems in whatever community we find them, but let’s be careful in our language because, as Jack himself said, we have sexual offenders from all communities from all races, and it’s important to say that.”
You can listen to the interview in full here. I was one of two reporters asking questions.
A total of ten candidates are standing in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. You can get in-depth interviews with Labour’s Debbie Abrahams here, BNP candidate Derek Adams here, Conservative Kashif Ali here, Peter Allen of the Greens here, Pirate Party UK candidate Loz Kaye here, Stephen Morris of the English Democrats here, UKIP candidate Paul Nuttall here and Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins here.
The other candidates are David Bishop of the Bus Pass Elvis Party and Nick “The Flying Brick” Delves from the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Polling day is on Thursday. Lots of other senior politicians have been campaigning in our area in recent weeks, and you can read and listen to David Cameron’s interview with Saddleworth News here. You can hear from Foreign Secretary William Hague here.
An interview with the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is here, while a chat with Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable is here. Previous interviews with Ed Miliband are here and here, and a conversation with Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson here. UKIP leader Nigel Farage spoke to Saddleworth News here.
To read full coverage of the by-election so far from Saddleworth News, click here.