VOTERS go to the polls today in the first by-election since the coalition government was formed last May.
Constituents in Oldham East and Saddleworth will choose a replacement for Phil Woolas, who was stripped of the seat after an electoral court found he deliberately lied about an opponent.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who finished third in Colne Valley in last year’s general election, is the odds-on favourite to win today.
The constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth borders Colne Valley and includes the villages of Denshaw, Greenfield and Uppermill.
Former immigration minister Phil Woolas held the seat last May by just 103 votes from his Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins.
But the beaten candidate appealed to a special election court.
In November judges sitting at Uppermill ruled Woolas had broken electoral law by lying about Mr Watkins during the campaign.
Labour leaflets in the run-up to the vote suggested the Lib Dem pandered to Muslim militants, and had refused to condemn death threats against Woolas.
Labour also claimed Mr Watkins had gone back on his promise to live in the constituency.
The High Court upheld the decision, paving the way for today’s vote.
Mrs Abrahams, a former chairman of Rochdale Primary Care Trust, was chosen as Labour’s candidate last month, beating former Oldham mayors Riaz Ahmad and Abdul Jabbar.
Mr Watkins is running again for the Lib Dems while the Conservative general election candidate Kashif Ali is also standing again.
A poll by ICM published on Sunday gave Labour a 44% to 27% lead over the Lib Dems in the constituency, with the Tories third on 18%.
But Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg yesterday predicted a “really close contest” as he campaigned in Saddleworth.
The Deputy Prime Minister said: “I am not going to be foolish enough to predict the outcome, but what I can say is that we are really in this contest and we are here to win.
“We are going out on the doorsteps to campaign hard for Elwyn Watkins and then let the people make up their own mind.
“This is a really close contest between ourselves and Labour in the last crucial hours of this by-election.”
Polls will open at 7am and close at 10pm tonight , with a result expected around 1am tomorrow.