Virendra Sharma wins 'Little India'
The Labour party on Friday retained the two seats of Sedgefield and Ealing Southall (better known as Little India) but with reduced majorities, prompting charges that Labour may lose more ground by the time the next general elections are held.
The by-elections were the first after Gordon Brown took over as Britain's prime minister, but his delight was dampened by the fact that the winning margin in both constituencies had dwindled since the 2005 general elections.
In Ealing Southall, Labour's Virendra Sharma was declared elected, and promptly termed the result as a "humiliating rebuke" to the Conservative party led by David Cameron, whose five visits to the constituency had made it into a prestigious contest.
The result was a repeat of the 2005 general election outcome with the Liberal Democrat candidate Nigel Bakhai returning second-highest votes. Despite the high-profile campaign, Conservative candidate Tony Lit came third, with a reduced number of votes than the party got in 2005.
In 2005, Labour Piara Singh Khabra had won the seat by a margin of 11440 votes. On Friday, Sharma's majority was slashed to 5000. Observers attributed this to the lower turnout in the by-election than that in the 2005 general election.
Soon after being declared elected, Sharma said: "I am humbled by the trust reposed in me by the people of Ealing Southall. This is a great result for our new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It is policies that win elections, not slick PR".
In Sedgefield, Labour's Phil Wilson won by a margin of 7000 votes. In 2005, the outgoing MP, Tony Blair, had won with a margin of over 18,000 votes. The Liberal Democrats came second while the Conservative candidate was reduced to the third place.
A delighted Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said that the two election results will "bring a spring in our step", but refused to be drawn into speculation whether the results will inspire Brown to order an early general election, as widely speculated.
Detailed figures of the two results showed that even though Labour won, the vote share of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives had increased.
The by-election in Ealing Southall, in west London, was triggered by the death of Piara Singh Khabra on June 19. The Sedgefield constituency in Durham county went to the polls following the resignation of Tony Blair as prime minister and MP.
Campaigning in Ealing Southall was marked by allegations of dirty tricks, defections and scuffles.
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