NEWARK-ON-TRENT, United Kingdom: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives claimed their by-election win yesterday was an endorsement of their deficit-cutting economic plan, after they fended off a stiff challenge from the anti-EU party UKIP.
The Conservatives retained the seat of Newark, a mid-sized town in central England, though their majority was slashed from 16,152 to 7,403 by Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party.
Cameron’s centre-right party mobilised extensive resources in their bid to hold on to the seat, after the anti-European Union, anti-mass immigration UKIP topped the polls at last month’s European Parliament elections, rattling the main three parties.
The Conservatives bombarded constituents in the rural Nottinghamshire seat with mailshots, phone calls and visits by heavyweight government ministers.
“It was a big team effort by the whole Conservative Party and it was a strong win for the Conservatives, a strong endorsement of the economic plan which is turning Britain around,” finance minister George Osborne told BBC radio.
“That is precisely the argument we will now take to the general election,” he said.
Britain’s economy has returned to growth under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, with a vast austerity drive aimed at wiping out the record annual budget deficit they inherited in 2010 by the end of the decade.
However, national opinion polls suggest the centre-left Labour main opposition party would secure a comfortable majority if a general election was held now.
The Newark win was the first time since 1989 that the Conservatives had won a by-election. On that occasion, the vote saw Foreign Secretary William Hague enter parliament.
“This is a very strong result and what is also striking is it’s a disastrous result for our principal opponents, the Labour Party, who came in third,” Osborne said.
Conservative candidate Robert Jenrick, a 32-year-old businessman with no prior political experience, won the seat with 17,431 votes (43 percent, down nine percent on the 2010 general election).
UKIP’s Roger Helmer, 70, who has sat in the European Parliament since 1989, came second with 10,028 votes (26 percent, up 22 percent).
UKIP is targeting a few dozen seats at next year’s general election, in areas where it thinks it has the best chance of winning, as it bids for its first-ever seats in parliament’s lower House of Commons. “I think there’ll be an awful lot of Conservatives with a majority of less than 10,000 who will look upon this result in sheer horror,” UKIP leader Farage said.
But he admitted he would have liked to have done better in Newark. “The majority’s halved and we thought we’d bitten into it even more than that, but nonetheless for UKIP it’s still a good night’s work,” he said.
The centrist Liberal Democrats, battered at last month’s local and European elections, saw their vote share plunge by 17 percent to three percent.
Cameron said it was a “very good result” but acknowledged that the Conservatives needed to win voters back from UKIP by May 2015.
“We need to work between now and the next election to say very clearly we have got a long-term plan, we are getting Britain back to work, we are cutting people’s taxes, we are helping hard-working people,” he told BBC television.