30/06/2006

Labour and Tories suffer by-election losses

Labour and the Conservatives have suffered losses in two local by-elections.

Labour failed to win back its former stronghold of Blaenau Gwent in south Wales, with the seat going to independent candidate Dai Davies.

The Conservatives retained their seat in Bromley and Chislehurst in south-east England, but their majority was slashed from 13,342 votes at last year's General Election to just 633.

However, Labour suffered further defeat in Bromley and Chislehurst, slipping into fourth place behind the UK Independence Party.

The Blaenau Gwent by-election following the death of Peter Law, a former Labour Welsh Assembly member. He left the party in protest at the introduction of an all-female candidates shortlist and stood at the last General Election as an independent candidate, winning the seat with a majority of 9,000.

However, he was diagnosed with a tumour during the campaign and died in April.

His widow, Trish Law, won the Welsh Assembly seat in Blaenau Gwent, standing as an independent candidate.

The Bromley and Chislehurst by-election was held following the death of Conservative Eric Forth, who had held the seat since it was created in 1997. Bob Neill won the seat for the Conservatives with 11,621, but the party's majority was greatly reduced. Liberal Democrat candidate Ben Abbotts came second with 10,988, while Labour's Rachel Reeve trailed in fourth place with 1,925 votes.

The Conservatives accused the Liberal Democrats of running a negative campaign. Mr Neill said that the Lib Dem campaign was fought with "cynical personal abuse", while Conservative party chairman Francis Maude said that the Lib Dems had run an "intensely personal and totally negative" campaign, which eventually resorted to "outright scaremongering".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell denied the accusations, telling the BBC that if there had been any question of impropriety, he would have stopped it.

Mr Maude said that the by-election result was not satisfactory. He said: "Even with all the unpredictability of a by-election, this is a brutal reminder of how much further we have to go and how much more we need to change. The changes being made by David Cameron need to go further, faster, wider and deeper. This is a wake-up call for us."

"We're not going to pretend that this is a satisfactory result - it isn't. Although we've won, this was a much closer result than we expected or than we should have got. We will have to learn the lessons."

(KMcA/GB)

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