July 20, 2007 / 6:53 AM / in 12 years

Brown passes first election test

LONDON (Reuters) - Voters handed a first electoral victory to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday, when his Labour Party retained two parliamentary seats in by-elections, albeit with reduced majorities.

Newly elected Labour MP for Sedgefield, Phil Wilson, poses at his constituency office in Newton Aycliffe in northern England July 20, 2007. British voters handed a first electoral victory to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday, when his Labour Party retained two parliamentary seats in by-elections, albeit with reduced majorities. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

The results were a blow for the Conservative Party, which came third to the Liberal Democrats in both the west London constituency of Ealing Southall and former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s old seat in Sedgefield, county Durham.

Brown has enjoyed a bounce in opinion polls since becoming prime minister last month and promising sweeping changes in style and policy to restore public trust in a government damaged by the Iraq war.

He appointed then Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander as election co-ordinator shortly before taking over, sparking speculation he might call early parliamentary elections although analysts said such a move would be risky.

Alexander, who was made Secretary for International Development by Brown, declined to say on Friday whether the results meant Brown was more likely to call a general election soon.

“It’s a tough, tough thing for a government to win by-elections more than 10 years into power,” Alexander told BBC radio. “I think it’s confirmation of the move back towards Labour in terms of general support amongst the electorate.”

‘CAMERON’S CONSERVATIVES’

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said the party was ready for a general election. She said it was pleased with the results given governments are traditionally vulnerable to voters expressing dissatisfaction in by-elections, which are held to fill parliamentary vacancies.

“Certainly we are ready for a general election ... There’s a real sense of the change that there is with the new leadership,” Harman told Sky News.

Conservative party leader David Cameron had visited the Ealing constituency five times in the run-up to polling, seeking fresh momentum for a resurgence in popularity enjoyed by the Conservatives in the last months of Blair’s premiership.

Tory candidate Tony Lit was listed on the ballot paper as standing for “David Cameron’s Conservatives”. But his campaign was badly dented when it emerged that Lit had donated money to Labour and been photographed with Blair just days before his selection by the opposition party.

Labour won Ealing with 15,188 votes, to 10,118 for the Liberal Democrats and 8,230 for the Conservatives.

The ruling party won Blair’s old seat in Sedgefield with 12,528 votes, with the Liberal Democrats on 5,572 and the Conservatives on 4,082.

Both by-election results were good news for the Liberal Democrats, whose leader Menzies Campbell has been under pressure from poor opinion poll ratings and the revitalised Tories.

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