Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BROWN IS BLAMED FOR POLL TURMOIL; PM ACCUSED OF 'OWN GOAL' BY DITCHING POPULAR NORWICH MP OVER EXPENSES; MINISTER TALKS OF AUTUMN LEADERSHIP CONTEST IF BROWN FAILS TO IMPROVE; Bad Result Set to Spark Leadership Plot in Autumn

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

BROWN IS BLAMED FOR POLL TURMOIL; PM ACCUSED OF 'OWN GOAL' BY DITCHING POPULAR NORWICH MP OVER EXPENSES; MINISTER TALKS OF AUTUMN LEADERSHIP CONTEST IF BROWN FAILS TO IMPROVE; Bad Result Set to Spark Leadership Plot in Autumn

Article excerpt

Byline: Joe Murphy Political Editor

GORDON BROWN was hit by angry recriminations today as Labour accepted defeat in the Norwich North by-election.

Unofficial local polls suggested the Conservatives were heading for a land-slidwin, although party officials were more cautious.

MP Tony Wright, the influential chairman of the Commons public administration committee, said a disastrous loss would be blamed on the Prime Minister trying to look "tough" after the expenses scandal.

He said Labour had brought the byelection on itself because it "badly treated" veteran Left-winger Ian Gibson, who was barred by the party leadership from standing again at the next general election.

"I think he was a victim of a moment when all the parties, and all the party leaders, were falling over each other to show how tough they were being, " said Mr Wright.

Former Labour cabinet minister Geoff Hoon admitted defeat, saying: "This by-election has been a perfect storm for a governing party."

One senior minister said Mr Brown's supporters were fully expecting an attempt to oust him this autumn. "It won't be at party conference, but it will probably come soon afterwards."

The Tories were confident of overturning Labour's 5,459 majority in a low turnout, estimated at just 45 per cent. That would make 27-year-old Tory candidate Chloe Smith the youngest MP at Westminster. But Tory leader David Cameron needs a big majority to claim a triumph. Some Conservatives were expecting a tight result because public disgust at the MPs' expenses scandal had suppressed turnout for all three major parties. UKIP and the Greens were predicted to have picked up votes.

Some Labour officials said they might be pushed into third place, an unlikely prospect which, if true, would be a humiliation for Mr Brown.

If the results are as bad for Labour as feared, talk of a leadership plot this autumn will gain momentum. …

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