AFP - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party suffered another embarrassing by-election defeat Friday in the first poll triggered by a scandal over lawmakers' expenses.
Labour was pushed into second place by the main opposition Conservatives in the Norwich North constituency in eastern England.
The Conservatives overturned Labour's majority of 5,549 at the last election in 2005 to take the seat by more than 7,000 votes.
The sitting lawmaker Ian Gibson quit after revelations that he claimed nearly 80,000 pounds (93,000 euros, 132,000 dollars) in second home expenses on a London flat which he later sold cheaply to his daughter.
Although the result comes as little surprise, it underlines that Brown's government faces an uphill struggle to beat David Cameron's Conservatives at a general election which it must call within a year.
The Tories are well ahead in opinion polls and commentators say the way Labour, in power since 1997, fought the Norwich campaign illustrates how much it has weakened.
Brown insists it was fighting the campaign under extraordinary circumstances amid two major storms over lawmakers' expenses and Britain's recession.
"I don't think there's any government that has faced two crises like that, one on top of the other," he told journalists Wednesday.
The by-election is also the first ballot test since Brown faced a leadership crisis amid dire European Union and local election polls last month.
Despite a wave of ministerial resignations, the threat to the premier's position petered out -- the second time that has happened since he took over from Tony Blair two years ago.
Most commentators now expect him to survive long enough to fight the next general election but they say Norwich North highlights the badly weakened state of Labour.
"It is hard to recall a recent by-election in a supposedly safe Labour seat about which the party has seemed more fatalistic," the Guardian newspaper said Friday.
"Under Gordon Brown, Labour has become a party that no longer expects to win."