Boost for Hague as Tories take Uxbridge

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Cheering Tories early today hailed the end of Tony Blair's honeymoon with the voters after inflicting defeat on Labour and holding on to their seat in the Uxbridge by-election with a 3,766 majority.

The Conservatives claimed the result - with a swing of 5 per cent from Labour - marked the start of their revival under William Hague's leadership. The jubilant Tory candidate, John Randall, took 16,238 votes to beat Labour's candidate Andrew Slaughter (12,522) and increase the Tory majority from 724 at the General Election. The Liberal Democrat, Keith Kerr, saw his vote fall from over 4,000 to 1,792.

"This has been the beginning and excellent start for William Hague. We have learned the lesson of 1 May. The Conservative Party is no longer lecturing, it is listening," said Mr Randall.

It was the first test of Government's popularity at the polls, and the result gave the Tories the morale boost they needed to send them off for the summer recess of Parliament.

"It would have been a miracle for us to have won. It is one of the safest Conservative seats and the Liberal vote collapsed," said Mr Slaughter. The result was a blow for Tony Blair and opened the Labour leadership to accusations of arrogance and high-handedness over its imposition of Mr Slaughter as the candidate, which will be seen as a mistake. Labour threw everything into the seat, with Mr Blair becoming the first Prime Minister in three generations to go on the hustings in a by-election campaign.

The Tories hit back by attacking Mr Slaughter, 36, as a Blairite who had been imposed on the local Labour Party. They successfully exploited resentment among some local Labour activists at his selection in place of a local candidate, David Williams, who stood for Labour in the seat only two months earlier.

There was some comfort for Labour with a Mori poll showing that Labour's popularity nationally had gone up from 44 per cent to 57 per cent since the election, while the Tories had fallen from 31 per cent to 23 per cent. Labour leaders shrugged off the defeat, insisting that it was a solidly Conservative seat, despite having slashed the Tory majority to only 724 on 1 May. A Labour victory after the Budget and a buffeting over allegations of "sleaze" would have heaped humiliation on the Conservatives, still demoralised after the Labour landslide in the General Election.

John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, who was campaigning in the seat until the final hours before polling, was disappointed, but said Labour had failed to win Uxbridge at the General Election in spite of a 12 per cent swing.

Labour said the decisive factor was the absence of the Referendum Party candidate who took 1,153 votes in May, mostly from the Tories.

Sir Norman Fowler, the former party chairman, praised William Hague for sharpening the appeal of the Tory Party. "John Randall was a good local candidate and Labour parachuted someone in," he said.

The vacancy was caused by the death of Sir Michael Shersby, who had held the seat for 27 years. Sir Michael had seen his majority slashed from 12,368 in 1992 to only 1.7 per cent, and died within five days of the General Election.

How they voted

John Randall (Con) - 16,288

Andrew Slaughter (Lab) - 12,522

Keith Kerr (Lib Dem) - 1,792

Ian Anderson (Nat Dem) 157; Ronnie Carroll (Emerald Rainbow Islands Dream Ticket) 30; James Feisenberger (UK Ind) 39; Julia Leonard (Soc) 259; John McCauley (Nat Front) 110; Henry Middleton (Original Lib) 69; Lord David Sutch (Official Monster Raving Loony) 396; Frances Taylor (Brit Nat) 205.

Conservative majority: 3,766

Turnout: 55.5%

Swing from Labour to Tories: 5%