/ 24 July 2009

British opposition wins parliamentary seat

Britain’s opposition Conservatives won a parliamentary seat in eastern England from the ruling Labour Party on Friday, with their candidate securing a big majority of more than 7$nbsp;300 votes.

The poll for the Norwich North seat, prompted by the fallout from a parliamentary expenses scandal, was being watched for clues to the outcome of a general election due within a year.

Labour, which came second in the vote, had held the seat since Tony Blair swept to power in a landslide victory in 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative rule. Their candidate had been defending a majority of more than 5$nbsp;000.

The centre-right Conservatives have a lead of as much as 17 points over Labour in opinion polls and the seat was one they needed to win to show they could translate that lead into a sizeable majority in the next Parliament.

Markets expect a Conservative government by this time next year, but are nervous about the size of the majority and the implications that has for reducing a bloated budget deficit.

Political commentators said Labour had been expected to lose the seat, but the size of the defeat could prompt fresh discontent over Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s leadership.

Brown’s leadership
”Whether this kind of defeat reopens question marks over Gordon Brown’s leadership is very much an open question,” said Mark Wickham-Jones of Bristol University.

”Given that it was to be expected it might not, given that it was a bad defeat it might do. Effectively this is a safe Tory [Conservative] seat for the next election,” he added.

Brown faced down a party revolt over his leadership last month.

Brown (58) has been criticised for failing to get his message across to voters and some former Cabinet colleagues have questioned his people management skills. However, the party is expected to shy away from replacing him so close to an election.

Local Labour member of Parliament (MP) Ian Gibson resigned in protest after the party barred him from standing in future elections over his role in the expenses scandal.

All main parties have been hurt by media reports that MPs claimed expenses for everything from moat cleaning to dog food. — Reuters