Tom Richmond: By-election will be a victory for party cynicism

THE rotten state of British politics will be illustrated on the border of Yorkshire next week when voters go to the polls in a Parliamentary by-election that is a genuine three-way marginal.

With the Oldham East and Saddleworth poll coming after VAT rose to a record 20 per cent, it could be easily construed as "the pain, the gain and the politicians' claims" election.

Just who do you believe – especially after Labour leader Ed Miliband's visit on Monday when he denounced the VAT move, even though he was part of a Labour government planning just such a hike if it had stayed in power?

The cynicism surrounding this Pennine contest, where David Cameron became the first Tory PM to campaign in a by-election for 50 years, is further fuelled by the suggestions that the Lib Dems, who lost out by 103 votes last May, brought forward the poll to make it more difficult for local students to vote following the party's volte-face on university tuition fees.

But both the VAT and student fee rows – pre-election promises that were also broken by the Tories and Liberal Democrats – mask the fact that this by-election was necessitated by the former Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, becoming the first MP since 1911 to be found guilty of making false accusations about an opponent.

This by-election should have been a walkover for the Lib Dems or Tories; there is simply no way that Labour deserves to represent the people of Oldham and Saddleworth, but their own broken promises mean that this is unlikely to happen. With the constituency split between urban Oldham and some of the most stunning countryside that England offers, my hunch is that Labour will prevail, with the Tories second and the Liberal Democrats third.

All three parties will claim a victory of sorts – but it should be remembered that this by-election would not have been necessary if Labour had abided by the rules. And local residents would have been better served if they could have elected a local, Independent candidate prepared to put their constituency before their party.

For, judging by the extent to which Labour's Debbie Abrahams was photographed nodding with Miliband, rather than offering her own views, it suggests that she will be just another party lackey on the backbenches when Parliament is crying out for a plethora of Independents to speak up for the country and tell the truth.

This has to be a political priority for 2011, a Parliamentary system that welcomes independent-minded individuals.

A NOTE to Leeds City Council. When are you going to start paying refunds to all those council tax payers whose rubbish bins have been left unemptied?

The council is quick to pursue residents who do not pay their council tax on time – so why should it be exempt when it fails to deliver an essential service?

Since the new arrangements came into place (before the snow), the rubbish has been collected, roughly, one week in three. It's not good enough.

Though it is not glamorous work, a local authority's ability – or otherwise – to provide a competent refuse collection service is normally indicative of a council's wider reputation.

NOW we know that vanity, and not diplomacy, drive some international summits.

This was certainly the case when Barack Obama, a then US Presidential hopeful, visited Gordon Brown in Downing Street in 2008. According to political historian Anthony Seldon's latest book, called Brown At 10, PR considerations took precedence.

"He wanted to keep him (Obama) in Number 10 for as long as possible, and was delighted he managed a full three hours," wrote Seldon.

He then disclosed a Brown aide's recollection: "We did everything we could and kept on bringing in (Brown's sons) John and Fraser to extend the length."

No wonder the 'special relationship' lost its allure when Obama came to power.

IN the week when motoring costs reached a new record high, this should be an opportunity for the railways to prosper. If only. This was the bizarre situation that confronted a neighbour when he travelled, by train, from Guiseley to York last Sunday.

Instead of buying one ticket for the journey, it was cheaper – said the Northern Rail clerk – to buy a ticket from Guiseley to Leeds, and then another ticket when he changed trains for York.

He was right. It saved 1. But can anyone, in a supposed age of customer service, explain this flawed logic?

CONTINUING the theme, can anyone explain how the Scottish Government can afford to transfer 10m, set aside to deal with the flu outbreak, to the 2014 Commonwealth Games that is being staged in Glasgow?

I cannot work this one out as the number of flu victims grows across Britain. And, before anyone says that this is a solely matter for the devolved government, it is not – the generosity of English taxpayers, in particular, helps finance the Scottish Executive's largesse.

THERE was a time in cricket, the gentleman's sport, when batsmen walked – or accepted the umpire's verdict. The integrity of the game made technology superfluous.

And, while TV replays proved that Australia's Phillip Hughes cheated when claiming a catch-that-never-was, this spectator will also regard England centurion Ian Bell as a cheat first – and a competent Ashes-winning batsman second – for relying on inconclusive TV evidence to justify staying at the crease in Sydney this week after edging a ball into the wicketkeeper's gloves. It does not bode well if this is cricket's future.