Pressure on Brown as Conservatives win by-election (Lead)

May 23rd, 2008 - 10:17 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
London, May 23 (DPA) British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was facing increased political pressure Friday after a stinging defeat for the ruling Labour Party at a crucial mid-term by-election hailed by the Conservatives as a “sea change” in British politics. The Conservatives, led nationally by David Cameron, emerged victorious from the Crewe and Nantwich - a traditional Labour stronghold in the northern English county of Cheshire - by-election with 49.9 percent of the vote, with Labour trailing at 30.6 percent.

It was earlier projected that the Crewe and Nantwich poll would give Labour only an estimated 20-percent share of the vote. Turnout was just over 58 percent.

It was the first time in almost 30 years that the Conservatives took a constituency from Labour in a by-election, and follows a serious setback for Labour in local elections and the London Mayoral contest May 1.

Brown, reacting to the defeat, said the voters’ rejection of Labour had its roots in the economic difficulties Britain, and other countries, were currently experiencing.

“The message of the British public is clear and unequivocal,” said Brown. “They are concerned about food prices, concerned about petrol prices and concerned about what is happening to the economy.”

It was his task to lead Britain through these problems with a “clear direction”, said Brown, adding: “I believe I can do so.”

However, a number of recent opinion polls have shown a sharp decline in Brown’s popularity, and, more importantly, appeared to confirm that up to 75 percent of Britons do not trust the government to guide them through the current difficulties.

Cameron said the “remarkable victory” marked the “end of New Labour” and showed that British voters had lost trust in Labour after 11 years in power.

“I know that a by-election is different from a general election,” said Cameron. But he believed that the by-election result provided further evidence that the electorate was beginning to “trust” the Conservatives and that Labour was losing the political middle ground in a direct switch of voters’ allegiance.

The Guardian newspaper said Friday the latest result showed that Brown, who took over as prime minister in June, was facing the “greatest crisis of his leadership”.

John McDonnell, a leftwing Labour member of parliament (MP) who last year challenged Brown for the party leadership, said the party was now viewed “with anger and contempt” by its supporters and “must change or bust”.

Other commentators spoke of a spectacular victory for the Conservatives which indicated a sea-change in British politics.

The by-election became necessary after the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, a veteran Labour member of parliament who had held the seat since 1983.

Before the two constituencies were merged in 1983, Labour had held Crewe since the end of World War II in 1946.

Dunwoody’s daughter, Tamsin, who stood for Labour in the by-election, conceded defeat after a massive 18-percent vote swing to the Conservatives.

Edward Timpson, the 34-year-old Conservative victor and heir to a shoe repair empire, said the election marked a “sea change” in British politics. “Gordon Brown does just not get it, and the government needs to change,” he said.

The next general election in Britain is due, at the latest, in May 2010.

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