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  1. Politics
24 July 2009

An inevitably bad result for Labour

But lethally, the Tories did better than media expected

By James Macintyre

After successfully downplaying today’s result in Norwich North this morning, the Tory party is celebrating its near-15 per cent swing to re-take the constituency today after the first byelection held against the backdrop of the expenses scandal. Despite that affair – bound to hit the incumbent hardest – and the recession, the result is undeniably bad for Labour. Here are the results in full:

Chloe Smith (Con) 13,591 (39.5%)
Chris Ostrowski (Lab) 6,243
April Pond (LD) 4,803 (13.97%)
Glenn Tingle (UKIP) 4,068 (11.83%)
Rupert Read (Green) 3,350 (9.74%)
Craig Murray (Ind) 953 (2.77%)
Robert West (BNP) 941 (2.74%)
C maj 7,348 (21.37%) 16.49% swing Lab to Con
Turnout 34,377 (45.76%, down 15.33% on gen election)

On the face of it, it is odd that disillusionment over Labour has translated so clearly into votes for David Cameron, and the poll is vindication of the latter’s clever strategy to be seen to be tough on abusers of expenses (despite the fact that the one MP who actually stepped down from the Commons was Ian Gibson – Labour – in this constituency of Norwich North). However, as James Landale at the BBC has pointed out, many Labour voters stayed at home or drifted to the other parties.

Labour is lucky to have managed to hold on to second place, after a worrying result for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. But the poor result could not come at a worse time for Gordon Brown as he braces himself for the silly summer season which – as last year – will almost certainly now be dominated by speculation surrounding his leadership. Expect a mini-reshuffle and a flurry of initiatives in the coming days.

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Unlike the message emerging from Tory HQ, this – inevitable – Labour defeat does not mean the Tories are on course for general election victory. Nonetheless, the belief held among a very few of us, that the election can still be won for Labour, is getting increasingly hard to justify.

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