British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was dealt a fresh blow yesterday after his party suffered a crushing by-election defeat in a previously safe Labour seat.
Just three weeks after trouncing the ruling Labour party in local elections, the opposition Conservatives won their first by-election victory over Labour since 1982, taking the Crewe and Nantwich constituency in northwest England.
Edward Timpson won 20,539 votes (49 percent) to 12,679 (30 percent) for Labour’s Tamsin Dunwoody.
That represented a 17.6 percent swing from the last election in 2005, the BBC reported.
Turnout for the vote was at 58.2 percent, considered high for a by-election.
“Today you have rejected the old politics, and voted for the positive alternative, put forward by the Conservative Party,” Timpson said in his victory speech.
“You have sent a message, loud and clear, that Gordon Brown just does not get it and the government needs to change,” he said.
The by-election was triggered by the death last month of the veteran parliamentarian Gywneth Dunwoody, the mother of the defeated Labour candidate, to whom Timpson paid fulsome tribute in his victory speech.
It was a measure of the scale of Labour’s defeat that at the last election Gywneth Dunwoody held a majority of 7,078 votes over the Conservatives: yesterday, Timpson’s majority was 7,860.
It was the first time that the Conservatives had won the seat since it was created in 1983.
The defeat was just one more headache for Brown. Labour’s latest humiliation came just three weeks after the party suffered its worst local poll results in 40 years.
It was the first chance for voters to respond to the government compensation package for the low paid, which itself was prompted by widespread outrage at the abolition of the lowest rate of income tax last month.
In his victory speech, Timpson drew a direct link between his by-election victory and the row over taxes.
“Crewe and Nantwich has voted against Gordon Brown’s decision to scrap the 10p rate and for a party that will work to relieve the burdens on hard-working families,” he said.
Nationally, opinion polls have put the government as much as 20 percentage points behind the Conservatives.
The prime minister has been criticized for the government’s recent economic record and blamed for rising fuel and food costs and falling house prices.
Conservative leader David Cameron is already riding high on the party’s success in town halls in England and Wales on May 1, including the capture of the high-profile London mayor’s job.
And the party’s success in Crewe indicates that it can now win in northern England, traditionally considered a Labour stronghold.
Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair’s ability to win in the Conservative heartlands of southern England played a large part in Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election.
Negative campaigning was a feature of the by-election, with Labour and Tory activists at loggerheads over the credentials of their respective candidates and their suitability to represent a working-class area.
Labour mocked privately educated lawyer Timpson as too much of an upper class “toff” to understand the needs of an area famous for its railway interchange, carriage works and car factories.
The Conservatives pointed to the fact that Labour’s Dunwoody was parachuted in from her country home in Wales to take over her mother’s seat.