British coalition dealt poll blow

14th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's coalition was dealt a blow Friday in its first by-election test, with the opposition Labour Party claiming voters had delivered a clear message on the government's austerity measures.

The poll in Oldham East and Saddleworth was the first proper chance for voters to cast their verdict on the eight-month-old coalition between Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Debbie Abrahams retained the seat outside Manchester in northwest England for Labour with a greatly increased majority of more than 3,500.

The Liberal Democrats finished second while the Conservatives in third place saw their vote slashed by more than 7,000.

In the general election in May, Labour beat the Liberal Democrats by just 103 votes but the lawmaker elected was stripped of the seat for making false claims about his Lib Dem opponent.

The newly elected Abrahams said: "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."

Since taking office, the government has slashed spending and hiked taxes in a bid to rein in Britain's record deficit.

The result will be seen as a boost for Labour's new leader Ed Miliband, who has come under fire for what some critics have deemed an underwhelming start in the job.

Miliband, who beat his brother David to the job, said the result sent a "very clear message to the government about some of the things they've been doing".

He said the poll indicated voters want the government to "think again" about their austerity package.

He added: "This a first step in a long journey for Labour but more importantly I hope the government will listen to what they've said."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, said: "It was a strong result given the circumstances in which the by-election was fought. It was a by-election held in unusual circumstances at a time when the government is taking difficult decisions."

Conservative chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi denied claims that the party had deliberately fought a lacklustre campaign to help out their Lib Dem coalition partners, who had a better chance of winning the seat.

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.

"We started off in third place and ended in third place," Warsi said.

Abrahams gained 14,718 votes (42.1 percent, up 10.3), ahead of the Lib Dem candidate on 11,160 (31.9 percent, up 0.3), and the Conservative on 4,481 (12.8 percent, down 13.6).

The by-election was called after the Labour winner in May 2010, former immigration minister Phil Woolas, 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.

The result does not have a significant impact on the coalition's strength. They now have a working majority of 83.

Of the 650 seats in parliament's lower House of Commons, the Conservatives have 305, Labour 254 and the Lib Dems 57.

© 2011 AFP

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