There’s new evidence the Conservatives didn’t try as hard as Labour and the Liberal Democrats during the recent Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.
According to figures revealed by BBC Newsnight, the Tories spent less than half what their main rivals did over the course of the campaign.
Each party is allowed to spend £100,000. Labour and the Lib Dems came close to that limit, spending £97,085 and £94,540 respectively.
However, Newsnight has reported that the Conservatives spent just £39,432. Even UKIP, with £43,855, managed more than that.
The Tories repeatedly rubbished claims they weren’t getting fully behind local candidate Kashif Ali. There were suggestions that Conservatives at Westminster wanted to run a low-key campaign to help their coalition partners the Lib Dems.
Only one Conservative Cabinet minister, party Chairman Baroness Warsi, came to the constituency before the final ten days of the campaign, although Prime Minister David Cameron did break with tradition by making a personal visit a week before polling day. By contrast, senior Lib Dems made repeated visits, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg coming no fewer than three times.
Ultimately, Mr Ali’s share of the vote declined sharply, as he polled just 4,481. That was well under half what he managed at last year’s general election, when the result was close between all three main parties.
Perhaps helped by the poor Tory showing, the vote for Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins held up well in spite of the party’s low national poll rating. But it wasn’t enough to prevent a Labour victory, with Debbie Abrahams elected as our new MP.
On election night, Mr Ali denied he hadn’t been given enough help by his party. He told Saddleworth News: “I think this was more a press story than reality. And the reality was the Prime Minister broke with convention to come here. The Foreign Secretary came here. The party Chairman spent a lot of time here, and so on. We had a lot of support, and I’m very proud of the campaign they ran.”
But although Mr Ali campaigned hard, the spending figures offer the first firm evidence that his party didn’t give him anything like the same resources of the other main candidates.
The story was broken by Newsnight’s political editor Michael Crick, and you can read his blog about it here.
The full background to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election is available from Saddleworth News here.