Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Labour Hold off Lib Dem Surge

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Labour Hold off Lib Dem Surge

Article excerpt

Byline: By Ross Smith

The Labour Party was jubilant last this morning after clinging on in the Hartlepool by-election and seeing the Tories beaten into fourth place.

Local councillor Iain Wright won with a majority of 2,033 despite a massive swing to the Liberal Democrats.

But the worst news was for the Conservatives, who fell to fourth place behind the UK Independence Party after finishing runners up at the last general election.

They were so concerned about the result that they asked for a recount to find if they had finished third. It will send party morale plummeting ahead of their conference in Bournemouth next week, justifying the government's timing of the poll.

The result will be a great tonic for Tony Blair as he goes into hospital today, with a general election expected in just a few months' time. Even though Labour's vote sank in the fave of an 18.8pc swing to the Liberal Democrats, they were relieved to hold on to the seat.

Turnout was about 46pc, about 10pc down on the 2001 general election.

If UKIP were to poll as strongly in a general election it would be a huge blow to the Tories' chances of taking seats , including their top North-East target, Tynemouth.

Mr Wright said: "Tonight's result is great news for Tony Blair, a huge disappointment for Charles Kennedy, and an absolute disaster for Michael Howard.

"Seven years into the Thatcher government, the Tories lost by-election after by-election, but tonight it's obvious that Michael Howard simply cannot win any by-election.

"He's not been leader of his party for even a year and yet we already know that the topic on any pair of Tory lips next week will be who will replace him after the Tories suffer another crushing election defeat."

But Conservative MP for Hexham Peter Atkinson said: "Obviously it's a disappointment but the conference will be looking forward. …

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