Britain's Labour deals blow to coalition with poll win

14th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's opposition Labour party won a convincing victory on Friday in the first by-election test since the general election, dealing a blow to the coalition government.

Labour candidate Debbie Abrahams won with a large majority of more than 3,500 in Oldham East and Saddleworth, northwest England.

The Liberal Democrats were in second place, while their coalition partners the Conservatives slumped to third place with their vote slashed by more than 7,000.

In the general election, Labour beat the Lib Dem candidate in the constituency by just 103 votes.

"This by-election is the first step for the long journey ahead under [Labour leader] Ed Miliband's leadership," said Abrahams, after her victory was announced early Friday.

"The voters have... sent a clear message to those watching in Downing Street.

"Across the country there is growing anger against your reckless policies, your broken promises and your unfair cuts."

Labour were voted out of office after 13 years in power in May's general elections.

The result after Thursday's vote will come as a blow to the Lib Dems, the only real challenger to Labour in the vote, and to the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition as a whole.

It was the first chance voters have had to pass judgement on Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition since it formed after the general election and in the wake of their announcement of huge cuts to public spending.

The fresh by-election was called after the Labour winner was found to have lied about his Liberal Democrat rival and was stripped of the seat, in the first such case for almost a century.

For the Lib Dems, the disappointing result comes after the party's popularity plummeted in the wake of controversial decisions made by the government.

Voters were particularly angered by a policy U-turn which will see a tripling of tuition fees for university students -- a measure which has sparked demonstrations, some of which have descended into violence.

The result will also be a blow to Cameron's Conservatives -- the party's share of the vote in the local poll fell by more than 13 percent.

The Lib Dems' vote actually increased slightly since May.

Reports had suggested that Cameron had ordered Conservative campaigning to be scaled back to help out his Lib Dem coalition partners.

The by-election had been closely watched to see if the centre-right Conservatives and the centrist Lib Dems would keep their promise to compete with each other in elections despite their tie-up at national level.

Former immigration minister Phil Woolas was forced to step down from the seat after his Liberal Democrat rival successfully claimed his opponent had breached the Representation of the People Act 1983 by campaigning on false statements about his personal character. Woolas then lost a judicial review.

The result does not have a significant impact on the coalition's strength.

© 2011 AFP

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