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British PM faces new poll test

Last Updated: Friday, July 24, 2009 - 13:53

London: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, still recovering from last month`s leadership crisis, braced for a new poll blow on Friday as he awaited results from a by-election in eastern England dominated by a row over expenses.
Brown`s Labour party is fighting to keep the parliamentary seat of Norwich North from the main opposition Conservatives, who are leading national polls ahead of a general election due within a year.

A strong showing for the Tories could reignite questions over Brown`s leadership, a month after he suffered a crisis of confidence among his own party following historic defeats in local and European elections.

The vote will likely reflect continuing public anger at a scandal over lawmakers` parliamentary expenses, which has rocked British politics and sparked Thursday`s by-election.

Incumbent Labour MP Ian Gibson, who held a majority of 5,500, resigned his seat after an internal party inquiry into revelations that he claimed thousands of pounds on a London flat before selling it at cut price to his daughter.

The expenses row has hit all the main parties in Westminster, but Labour -- in power since 1997 -- has suffered the most.

It has been languishing at least 10 points behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls for months, battling a perception that it has run out of steam.

The recession meanwhile has dealt a personal blow to Brown, who was finance minister for 10 years before taking over from Tony Blair two years ago.

Some commentators expect voters in Norwich North to punish the main parties and instead back fringe parties such as the Greens and the British National Party (BNP), which won its first two seats in the European Parliament in June.

Brown has sought to play down any defeat, saying the by-election was being held in "unique" circumstances given the deep recession and the expenses row.

"I hope people who are Labour voters will come out and vote Labour but I think people do understand the uniqueness of this by-election resulting from the parliamentary events that came before," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, July 24, 2009 - 13:53
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