Opinion polls released tonight give Labour the advantage in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. Two surveys show the Liberal Democrats well back in second with the Conservatives a distant third, although another poll has the Lib Dems only narrowly behind.
A Populus survey of more than 1,500 people commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and published in the Sunday Telegraph puts Labour on 46%, the Lib Dems on 29% with the Conservatives on 15%.
Meanwhile, a much smaller ICM poll in the Mail on Sunday gives a similar picture, with Labour on 44%, the Lib Dems on 27% and the Tories on 18%.
A third small survey, carried out by polling newcomer Survation also for the Mail on Sunday, has the race much closer. It puts Labour on 31%, the Lib Dems on 30% and the Conservatives on just 6%, along with 25% undecided and 8% backing other parties.
Those ratings compare with the result from the general election here in Oldham East and Saddleworth. Then, Labour won 31.9% of the vote, ahead of 31.6% for the Lib Dems and 26.4% for the Conservatives.
The polls were released at the end of the busiest day of campaigning so far ahead of Thursday’s vote. Hundreds of activists from the different parties came from around the country to help their candidates. Also on the campaign trail were Labour leader Ed Miliband, Conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague, and Lib Dem Cabinet ministers Chris Huhne and Michael Moore.
Mr Miliband hinted in an interview with Saddleworth News that Labour is concerned complacency among some of its own supporters could now be the biggest threat to its candidate Debbie Abrahams. He said: “The stakes are too high in this by-election to stay at home.”
The surveys aren’t all bad news for Elwyn Watkins and the Lib Dems. They suggest the party’s share of the vote is holding up in our area, despite national opinion polls which have shown a significant drop in support for them in recent months. They’ll be hoping a good turnout in strong Lib Dem areas such as Saddleworth, and Tories voting tactically to stop Labour, could yet swing the contest their way.
Even though Conservative Kashif Ali appears to be in third place, Mr Hague was today quick to again rubbish claims the Tories haven’t put their all into this contest. Speaking in Uppermill, he said: “We’ve had 50 MPs up here, the Prime Minister was here on Thursday, I’m here today, many of my colleagues will be here, so we’re not giving anybody an easy ride.”
More details of the Populus/Sunday Telegraph poll are available here, with an article about it by Lord Ashcroft himself here. The Mail on Sunday piece about its two polls is here. There’s further analysis at Political Betting here, and from UK Polling Report here.
Full coverage of the by-election so far, including interviews with the candidates, is available from Saddleworth News here.
(Editor’s note: This story was updated a few hours after publication to include the details of the Survation poll)