British ruling party loses crucial by election

July 25, 2008 12:00 am

, LONDON, July 25 – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suffered a major blow Friday after his ruling Labour Party lost a crucial by-election in his native Scotland.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) reversed a more than 13,000-vote majority in Glasgow East to snatch Labour’s 25th-safest seat in Britain, with questions likely to be asked of Brown’s future as premier.

Labour has endured two previous by-election losses in recent months and seen support plummet to record lows in the opinion polls. Brown himself has been under pressure because of the rising cost of living, his administration’s recent economic record and his own leadership style.

Overall, John Mason of the SNP garnered 11,277 votes, a 26-percent increase in the party’s share of the vote compared to the last general election in May 2005, compared to 10, 912 votes for Labour’s Margaret Curran, a 19-percent drop.

Turnout in the by-election, sparked by the resignation of Labour’s David Marshall on health grounds, was around 42 percent, compared to 48 percent in 2005.

Brown, born and raised in nearby Govan and barely a year into the job, would lose his own seat were the 22.54 percent swing replicated in a general election, Britain’s Press Association said.

In that scenario, Labour would be left with just one MP in all of Scotland, compared to 40 after the 2005 general election, according to PA calculations. That would mean that Defence Secretary Des Browne, finance minister Alistair Darling and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander would all lose their seats.

Mason said in his victory speech that the impact of the result would be felt as far afield as Brown’s official residence in London, and declared that "Labour MPs across Scotland will be quaking in their boots."

"This SNP victory is not just a political earthquake, it is off the Richter scale," he said.

"It is an epic win, and the tremors are being felt all the way to Downing Street."

Curran, meanwhile, urged her party "to listen and … to hear the message from the people of Glasgow East."

The SNP’s margin of victory was narrow enough for Labour to request a recount, which delayed the announcement of the result by around an hour.

Brown’s future as Britain’s leader may now be called into question, with Glasgow East becoming Labour’s third by-election defeat in recent months.

The centre-left party suffered its worst local election defeat in England and Wales for 40 years in May, while a recent ICM poll in The Guardian on Tuesday put Labour 15 percentage points behind the main opposition Conservatives nationally.

Alexander acknowledged while speaking to the BBC that the defeat was "clearly disappointing" for Labour, and a "notable victory" for the SNP.

"We will, of course, reflect long and hard on the result and try to understand the message that has been sent by the voters of Glasgow East," he told the broadcaster.

He dismissed, however, suggestions that the result was a reflection on Brown’s leadership, saying: "We all share responsibility for tonight’s result and we have to shoulder that responsibility."

"I don’t think it is a night to say it is about one particular individual," he added.

Glasgow East, whose boundaries have been redrawn since the 2005 election, has been given a rare national profile in recent weeks, with much made of the predominantly inner-city area’s acute social problems.

SNP leader Alex Salmond has noted that in one part of the constituency, male life expectancy is 53.9 years — 15.1 years less than in war-torn Iraq. Others point out that in the Gaza Strip, men can expect to live to 70.5 years.

Unemployment is well above the 5.2 percent national average, while there are high rates of alcoholism and drug dependency.

Such issues were high on the agenda on the campaign trail, alongside local concerns about law and order and post office closures and national ones like welfare benefit reforms, housing tax, plus high petrol and energy bills.


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