The Conservatives have long feared that David Cameron is secretely hoping for a Lib Dem victory in the forthcoming Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election. But the Prime Minister’s comments at a Brussels press conference this afternoon mean that desire is no longer so secret.
Obviously, in a coalition, you always wish your partners well. I think the coalition has worked extremely well. All I would say is, the context of the by-election is the MP elected at the election has been found in court to have told complete untruths about his opponent.
I think that is an extremely important context. In that context, we wish our partners well. They had an extremely tough time. All the unfairnesses and untruths about their candidate – he’s now been exhonerated. So of course I wish them well.
We’ll be patrolling the same streets and fighting for the same votes. But I hope that will be done in a slightly more friendly manner than it has in the past.
Cameron’s words imply that the Lib Dems have a stronger moral claim to the seat, and his insistence at the end that the parties will be “fighting for the same votes” feels rather tokenistic.
As I’ve said before, it’s not hard to imagine why Cameron wants the Lib Dems to win. A yellow victory would reassure the Lib Dem left (the coalition’s weakest link) and strengthen government unity. Conversely, a heavy Lib Dem defeat would alarm the party’s increasingly rebellious backbenchers and put the Prime Minister under pressure to make greater concessions.
But more significantly, Cameron’s statement that “in a coalition, you always wish your partners well” is the clearest indication yet that he’s considering an electoral pact with the Lib Dems.