New Labour suffers another defeat

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Lord Palmerston
New Labour suffers another defeat

The Conservative candidate, Chloe Smith, a 27-year-old management consultant, won 39.5 percent of Thursday’s vote in the provincial seat of Norwich North, 100 miles northeast of London, versus 18.2 percent for the Labour candidate, Chris Ostrowski. Mr. Ostrowski’s performance represented a collapse in the Labour vote from 45 percent in the 2005 general election, when Labour won its third straight national election.

Political pundits said the result represented a 16 percent swing among voters from Labour to Conservative, and cast the result as a further harbinger of a likely Conservative victory in a general election Mr. Brown must call by early June.

Mr. Brown called the results “disappointing,” but other senior Labour figures said it was unrepresentative of the party’s true standing. Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, said the vote reflected “unprecedented circumstances” and added, “I think for the Conservatives to say, ‘We’ve already won the next general election,’ and ‘We’ve got the keys to 10 Downing Street,’ we think that’s arrogant.”

Mr. Brown said the decrease in Labour’s total owed more to the increase in support for fringe parties — common in by-elections — than it did to Labour defections to the Conservatives. Among the 12 candidates, third place went to the third major party, the Liberal Democrats, with 14 percent of the vote.

But the United Kingdom Independence Party, a right-wing group opposed to British membership in the European Union, and the Greens, an environmental group, took nearly 12 percent and 10 percent of the vote, respectively. Many of those votes appeared to have come from former Labour supporters, whom the party would hope to draw back in a general election.