LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party won a vote for a parliamentary seat on Friday, fending off a challenge from the Eurosceptic party that beat it into third place in last month’s European elections.
Cameron and his party suggested the victory in Newark, in the English county of Nottinghamshire, was proof that the outcome of the European elections was a one-off protest that will not be replicated at a national election in May next year.
“This is a very good result for the Conservative party and for the government,” Cameron said on Friday morning.
“By-elections are notoriously tricky, the last time we won one in government was over 20 years ago, and it’s a good result because we worked hard, we had an excellent candidate and we had a very clear message about our long-term economic plan.”
By-elections describe votes for parliamentary seats held in-between national elections.
George Osborne, said the result was proof that the “politics of answers can beat the politics of anger,” a barbed reference to the policies of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which came second.
Final results showed that the Conservatives had come first with 45 percent of the vote. Their majority was less than half what it was in a national election in the same seat in 2010, however.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which won last month’s European elections, came second with 25.9 percent of the vote, up from 3.8 percent of the vote and fourth place in the same seat in 2010. It had hoped to come a much closer second.
The Labour party came third with 17.7 percent of the vote, while the Lib Dems, the junior partner in a coalition government with Cameron’s Conservatives, picked up just 2.6 percent of the vote and came sixth.
The Conservatives said their margin of victory was bigger than they had hoped for and that UKIP had failed to convert its previous success into a strong showing, suggesting the anti-EU party’s momentum was starting to falter.
But UKIP, which wants stricter border controls and for Britain to leave the European Union, portrayed its performance in Newark, traditionally a safe Conservative seat and not one it would usually target, as another sign it was a force in British politics with which to be reckoned.
“We are encouraged by the fact that we have increased our share of the vote since the general election (in 2010) by a factor of six and we have halved the Conservative majority,” Roger Helmer, its candidate for Newark, said after the vote.
“That is a great sign for the future of our party and for our intention to take our campaign ahead to next year to the general election on a targeted basis.”
Lacking an established party machine or historical support base in the largely rural constituency, UKIP before the vote had likened the challenge of winning to “going from base camp to the summit of Mount Everest in about half an hour”.
Tapping into a general feeling of discontent with politicians and their perceived inability to effect change, UKIP siphons support from all three of Britain’s mainstream parties.
However, polling shows it draws most of its support from former Conservative voters, raising the prospect it could split the centre-right vote next year, making it harder for Cameron to be re-elected.
Rattled by its third place finish in last month’s European elections the Conservatives were not taking any chances with Newark. Cameron visited four times and the party ordered activists, MPs and ministers to campaign there too.
The Newark by-election was triggered by the resignation of the sitting Conservative MP Patrick Mercer after he was compromised in a lobbying scandal.
Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Toby Chopra