Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has made a renewed appeal for local people to support his party in Thursday’s by-election. Making his third visit of the campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister praised candidate Elwyn Watkins for showing “courage and bravery” during the Phil Woolas scandal.
Mr Clegg spent some time knocking on doors in Grotton, before moving up the road to the White Hart at Lydgate to do a series of media interviews.
When asked by Saddleworth News whether he had a message for any undecided voters, he said: “The first thing I’d say is remember why we’re having this by-election.”
He added: “We’re having this by-election because five High Court judges showed that the Labour party and Phil Woolas had lied his way through the general election and stoked up racial tension for narrow party political advantage.”
Mr Clegg went on to praise Mr Watkins, who brought a successful legal challenge against the general election result: “There’s only one reason why people have got the opportunity to have a fairer say on who they want to be their MP. It’s because of the courage and bravery of Elwyn Watkins. And I think Elwyn Watkins would be an oustanding MP for this local area for that and so many other reasons.”
The Deputy PM also defended his party’s decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives: “I think there’s a basic division now. There’s people who think that compromise in politics is not a bad thing from time to time, much in the same way as we have to compromise in our everyday lives. And those people who think that every time there’s a compromise between politicians who don’t agree on everything, it’s a betrayal, or a u-turn.”
Mr Clegg went on: “I just think people have got to move on. We can’t have this, I think very rigid, slightly crass view of politics, that it’s about everyone either winning or everyone either losing. The point of a coalition government is that we’ve got two parties who are different, who come at things from different perspectives, so of course we have to work hard to find agreement, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
He added: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to find simple and sensible compromises for the benefit of the country in the long term. And that’s what I do every single day of the week.”
However, Mr Clegg conceded that he hadn’t been totally successful in getting across the way the coalition works to people: “Most obviously in the controversy around the reforms to higher education, it’s been quite a job for us to explain that we didn’t win the general election. We came third. Both the other parties didn’t agree with our policy on university education, so even if we’d been in a coalition with Labour, fees would have gone up.”
He added: “So what we’ve done instead is work very hard on the detail of the policy to make it much fairer than it would have been otherwise. And to make sure that all graduates will pay less in future per month than they would do under the scheme we inherited from Labour.”
Mr Clegg concluded: “That’s a good example of the kind of push and pull, if you like, of contemporary politics.”
You can hear the interview in full here. I was one of three reporters asking questions, and Mr Clegg also discussed control orders.
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 earlier Saddleworth News interview with Mr Clegg in which he discussed many Saddleworth-specific issues is here, while a chat with Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable is here. You can hear from Labour leader Ed Miliband here, 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.