Clegg shops for votes as polls confirm gloom

LIBERAL Democrat Leader Nick Clegg sought to brush off more opinion poll misery as he stepped up his party's bid to win the hotly-contested Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election next Thursday.

The Deputy Prime Minister said he was "here to win" in the seat narrowly held by Labour's Phil Woolas at May's general election before he was removed as an MP by a court over misleading leaflets put out during the campaign.

And after a "poll of polls" yesterday put his party on just 11 per cent – the lowest since the Lib Dems were formed in 1988 – Mr Clegg turned his fire on Labour during his second campaigning visit to the constituency.

"This is the wrong time for indecision," he said. "This is the wrong time to duck tough choices and I think the people here deserve more than a blank sheet of paper from Labour.

"They deserve answers and what we are doing, the Liberal Democrats, is rolling up our sleeves to sort out the mess we have inherited from Labour to provide a better future for people here and indeed the rest of the country.

"The choice is basically between do you face up to the problems we have got or do you run away from them."

Dismissing the significance of polls, he said: "Polls come and go, they have gyrated wildly for the Liberal Democrats over the last few months but when people come to vote the question they must ask themselves is simply this – who do they want as their MP?"

The contest represents a major challenge for Mr Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, as the Liberal Democrat's candidate Elwyn Watkins missed out by only 103 votes in May.

But it is also a first test for Ed Miliband's leadership of Labour just after his 100th day in the post.

He was in the constituency earlier this week to support his party's candidate Debbie Abrahams, who contested the Colne Valley seat in May.

Mr Clegg was met by a handful of protesters yesterday, one of whom was bundled away. He later faced voters in Saddleworth at the first "town hall meeting" he has attended since breaking a pre-election pledge by voting in favour of a rise in tuition fees.

Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to visit this week to support Tory candidate Kashif Ali amid suspicion he would welcome a Lib Dem victory to boost his coalition partners.