WHILE in established by-election tradition, all the main parties have been quick to claim some sort of progress following the polls in Ealing/Southall and Sedgefield, in truth there is only one real winner — Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Predictably for a governing party in mid-term, Labour saw its majority slashed in two very different constituencies, but — crucially — two new Labour MPs have been elected to Westminster.
The Liberal Democrats at least had the consolation of seeing their candidates’ share of the vote rise, but for the Conservatives — allegedly the main opposition party in the UK — it was an unmitigated disaster, particularly for leader David Cameron, who put his political credibility on the line by visiting Ealing/Southall five times during the campaign.
In the London poll, the Conservatives were unable to improve on their third place two years ago, while in Sedgefield, the Tory candidate slipped to third place only six per cent ahead of the BNP. The blunt reality is that Mr Cameron is no more trusted by the voters than his three predecessors, Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague, who all tried and failed to de-rail the Blair bandwagon.
The double poll success is an important psychological boost for Mr Brown and his team. Of course, Labour was the firm favourite to win in each case, but by-election voters have a long tradition of giving the party of government a sharp reminder that they must not be taken for granted.
Instead, voters served notice on Mr Cameron that he is not up to the job. A snap general election next spring? Don’t bet against it!