UK Politics

Party leaders hit campaign trail ahead of by-elections

Clacton Town Hall Image copyright Getty Images

Party leaders have stepped up campaigning efforts before two key by-elections take place next week.

Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage visited Heywood and Middleton, where a by-election was triggered by the death of Labour MP Jim Dobbin in September.

Prime Minister David Cameron canvassed in Clacton with the Conservative candidate for the area, Giles Watling.

Douglas Carswell triggered the by-election after defecting to UKIP.

Mr Carswell had been Conservative MP for Clacton since 2005, winning with a 12,000 majority in 2010.

Mr Watling, who played a vicar in the comedy series Bread, told the BBC that "it wasn't really the plan" for him to stand as an MP, but having been active in local Conservative politics, he decided to do so after Mr Carswell's resignation.

Image caption David Cameron said Giles Watling would be a "good, strong Conservative MP" for Clacton

The prime minister said Mr Watling would "stand up for local people", and that he would "help to deliver our long-term economic plan" in the constituency.

Andy Graham, the Lib Dem candidate for Clacton, said it had been wrong of Mr Carswell to call the by-election in the first place, as it had "cost the taxpayer £250,000".

Image caption Andy Graham, the Liberal Democrats' candidate, said the party offered 'hope' to voters in Clacton

The Green Party's candidate, Chris Southall, argued that the election was a stunt, describing it as "a political ploy on the part of UKIP to mess up the Tories".

Image caption Chris Southall said the Greens were mainly concerned with fighting "benefit cuts" in the area

Labour candidate Tim Young told the BBC the most pressing issue for local people was "the state of the local and national NHS".

Image caption Labour's Tim Young says Douglas Carswell has been part of the 'Westminster elite' for 9 years

Ed Miliband visited Clacton on Wednesday. When asked by the BBC's Adam Fleming if the prime minister had "stolen the Labour leader's thunder" by promising to ring-fence the NHS budget, Mr Young said his message to voters was: "Don't look at David Cameron's words. Look at his deeds."

'Ukippy kind of language'

Mr Carswell told the BBC David Cameron had been speaking a "Ukippy kind of language" in his conference speech on Wednesday.

He said the current government's failures were "not just written in immigration statistics or gaping public debt", but also in local issues such as the "switching off of the streetlights, or the long queues of people queuing to get to see their GP".

Image caption Douglas Carswell said the current government had failed on a 'macro' and 'micro' level

In his conference speech Mr Cameron warned voters thinking of voting UKIP at the next election that they might "go to bed with" Nigel Farage on 7 May and "wake up with Ed Miliband".

There was a further defection, by MP Mark Reckless, from the Conservatives to UKIP last week and former Conservative donor Arron Banks announced on Wednesday he was giving £1m to UKIP.

Mr Farage was in the Greater Manchester constituency of Heywood and Middleton campaigning for the UKIP candidate Jon Bickley. In his speech to the UKIP conference Mr Farage said that UKIP was "parking" its "tanks on Labour's lawn" in this by-election battle.

Image copyright Press Association
Image caption Nigel Farage addresses the media in Heywood and Middleton alongside Jon Bickley, to his immediate right

The Labour Party candidate is Liz McInnes. Mr Miliband canvassed with her later on Thursday.

Jim Dobbin, who had represented the area for the Labour Party since 1997, died on 6 September. In the 2010 election he won with 40% of the vote. The UKIP candidate received 2.6%.

Mr Clegg remained in London ahead of the start of his party's conference on Saturday.

The full list of candidates, in alphabetical order by surname, in Clacton, is:

Carswell, Douglas - UK Independence Party

Graham, Andy - Liberal Democrats

Hope, Howling Laud - The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

Rose, Charlotte - Independent

Sizer, Bruce Francis - Independent

Southall, Chris - Green Party

Watling, Giles - Conservative

Young, Tim - Labour

The full list of candidates, in alphabetical order by surname, in Heywood and Middleton, is:

Bickley, Jon - UK Independence Party

Gartside, Iain - The Conservative Party

Jackson, Abi - Green Party of England and Wales

McInnes, Liz - Labour Party

Smith, Anthony - The Liberal Democrats

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