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Saturday, June 28, 2008
International

New poll blow for British PM on first anniversary

Britain's governing Labour Party yesterday slumped to a humiliating fifth place in a worse-than-expected by-election result, in a new poll blow exactly a year after Gordon Brown took office.

Although Labour was never expected to win the seat of Henley, southern England, the scale of the loss was a surprise, with Labour losing its deposit as vote share fell more than 11.5 percent on the last general election in 2005.

The main opposition Conservative Party retained the safe seat vacated by Boris Johnson when he became London Mayor on May 1 by a comfortable 10,116 majority over the Liberal Democrats, slightly down on 2005.

The Green Party and the far-right British National Party were ahead of Labour, which with just over 1,066 votes was not enough to meet the five percent threshold to retain its deposit.

Labour's candidate polled just over 800 votes more than Bananaman Owen, from the fringe Monster Raving Loony Party, which has been an off-the-wall feature in British elections since the early 1980s.

Lawmaker Martin Salter described it as a "grim result" for Labour. "I am very disappointed. We did hope to do better than that," he said.

"It is very difficult to divine a clear message for Gordon Brown in a seat in which we had no chance at all. It is one of the worst seats for Labour in the country."

The victorious candidate, John Howell, said the result showed that Labour was "falling apart and that the Conservatives under David Cameron's leadership are on the march."

However they console themselves, the result will make depressing reading for Brown and his colleagues, after a year in which they have seen support haemorrhage from healthy highs to record lows.

It coincided with a YouGov/Daily Telegraph poll Friday putting Labour 18 points behind the Tories, with 61 percent of voters rating Brown as an electoral liability.

Some 67 percent of voters believe the Conservatives will win the next general election, which is due no later than May 2010, while just 16 percent believe Labour will be returned for the fourth time since 1997.

The Tories have had several major successes in recent months, polling well in local elections in England and Wales on May 1, and winning a formerly safe Labour seat in a by-election on May 22.

Brown was initially lauded for proposing constitutional reform, apparently cooling relations with the United States, and providing a measured response to a series of crises that hit Britain in the weeks after he became premier.

But the former finance minister's reputation for sound economic management has since taken a damaging hit from the near-collapse of the Northern Rock bank and his government's botched income tax reforms.

The government also faced accusations of incompetence after the repeated loss of sensitive personal documents, including most recently intelligence files on al-Qaeda and Iraq.

The prime minister's supporters, especially his cabinet, insist he is still the right man for the job, praising his integrity and serious-minded attempts at reform, blaming external factors for the government's dip in fortunes.

But critics, notably the Tories, blame Brown personally for Britain's economic slow-down, increased taxes, higher government borrowing, the rising cost of fuel, domestic energy and food and fall in the house prices.

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