- elections - England - Gordon Brown
Britain’s opposition Conservatives gained a mid-term parliamentary seat from the ruling Labour Party on Friday for the first time in 30 years, making them favourites to win the next general election.
The drubbing for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s party came after disastrous results in May 1 local council elections and consistently bad opinion poll ratings, turning the Conservatives into credible challengers after 11 years in opposition.
“This is not a sign that the next election is lost, but it is a sign the Conservatives are able now to win the next election in a way that they weren’t before,” said Philip Cowley, politics professor at Nottingham University in England.
“Things are pointing in a very bad direction for Labour.”
Even a last-minute 2.7 billion pound tax cut announced ahead of the poll, intended to undo a botched tax reform, failed to win support for the government.
The Conservatives overturned a Labour majority of 7,000 to win the seat for the northern town of Crewe by a margin of nearly 8,000, a 17.6 percent swing. Turnout was 58 percent.
The incumbent, who died last month, had held the seat for Labour for 34 years. It was the first time the Conservatives had taken a seat from Labour in a mid-term vote since 1978, the year before Margaret Thatcher swept them to office.
“Thousands of people who haven’t voted Conservative before decided to come out and support us,” Conservative leader David Cameron said on the streets of the town alongside his victorious candidate, Edward Timpson.
“For Labour it was the end of being the party of aspiration. It was the end of being the party of opportunity. It was the end of New Labour here on the streets of Crewe,” he said.
Brown said voters had expressed worry about the economy.
“The message that we have got is that people are concerned. They are concerned about rising prices. My task is to continue to steer the British economy through very tough times,” he said.
The defeat came despite attempts by Brown to relaunch his unpopular government with new policies and it was inflicted in a northern English area long seen as his party’s heartland.
“The Labour government have done nothing for me in the last 10 years, except rob me blind, and done nothing for the country, except sell off the gold reserves and go to war with Iraq,” said Patrick Sutton, 60, a retired coalman who voted Conservative after voting Labour all his life.
Analysts said the high turnout showed Crewe was more than a protest vote, and they drew ominous parallels with the dying days of the last Labour government in the 1970s or the end of the last Conservative administration in the late 1990s.
BROWN’S DAYS NUMBERED?
Within Labour, more questions will be asked about whether Brown is the right man to lead the party into the general election and win a fourth term.
Brown enjoyed a brief honeymoon when he took over from Tony Blair in June but his poll ratings have collapsed since October when he backed away from calling a snap election. Rising prices, a banking crisis and slowing growth have hurt his image.
There is no obvious alternative to Brown within Labour but Cowley said the party may decide to “take a punt on a new face or a caretaker leader” if things continue to go downhill.
Some Brown critics have given him until the party’s annual conference in September to pull Labour out of the doldrums.
Cameron will now be under pressure to show he has solid policies but Cowley said he only had to do enough to look credible under the media glare.
“The mood at the moment is so anti-Labour that you could probably put up the village idiot and there’s a chance they would get returned in some constituencies,” Cowley said.