Gordon Brown suffered a devastating blow early today as Labour crashed to defeat in the Glasgow East by-election.
The former Labour stronghold – previously the party's 25th safest seat in Britain – was captured by the Scottish National Party with a massive swing of 24 per cent. The SNP's John Mason triumphed with 11,277 votes, a hair's breadth ahead of Labour's Margaret Curran on 10,912 votes, a majority of just 365. The margin of the victory was so close that a partial recount of the votes took place before the result was declared just before 2.30am. The Tories, who came a distant third with 1,639 votes, and the Liberal Democrats, who were fourth with 915 votes, were squeezed by the SNP-Labour battle.
Labour had held Glasgow East at the previous election with an overwhelming majority of 13,507 and the support of more than 60 per cent of voters. The result will reignite pressure on Mr Brown to step down as Prime Minister or risk leading the party to disaster at the next election.
The set-back came despite a massive drive by the Government to hold on to the heavily working-class constituency, which had returned a Labour MP since the Second World War.
It brings the parliamentary year to a miserable end for Mr Brown, who has presided over a collapse in Labour support and seen the party hammered in by-elections and local council contests. The Prime Minister faces a stormy meeting of Labour's policy forum in Warwick today, where union leaders are bound to renew criticism of his leadership.
The defeat means Mr Brown faces the real threat of an attempt by senior Labour figures to force him out of office as alarm intensifies over the party's plight. Before the Glasgow East result was announced, MPs were already speculating that the Cabinet Ministers David Miliband, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson or James Purnell could replace him.
The day before polling, Labour had been predicting a narrow win by between 1,000 and 2,000 votes. But their hopes of clinging on – and achieving vital breathing-space for Mr Brown over the summer – were dashed as early canvassing returns started coming in from Glasgow. Despite a respectable turnout of 42 per cent yesterday, it rapidly became apparent that the party had spectacularly failed to persuade its former core vote to stay loyal.
The result is the worst in a series of three calamitous Labour performances in the past two months. In Crewe and Nantwich – another seat previously represented by Labour since the Second World War – a majority of 7,078 was demolished by the Tory Edward Timpson with a swing of 17.6 per cent. In the by-election in Henley, Oxfordshire, last month, Labour suffered the humiliation of limping in fifth – behind the Greens and the British National Party – with just 1,066 votes and three per cent support.
But the result in Glasgow represents a new low point for Labour, which had hoped its fortunes had bottomed out. The East End of Glasgow, with its huge estates and tenements, has always been associated with radical politics. The by-election was forced by the retirement of David Marshall as MP on health grounds. Labour called a rapid contest in the hope that it could prevent an SNP bandwagon rolling. But the party was hit by early chaos over the selection of a candidate.
The eventual choice, Ms Curran, a member of the Scottish parliament, was widely considered to have performed strongly in campaigning. She focused on recent investment in Glasgow East, one of the most deprived areas in the UK. But her push for votes was destroyed by a national backlash against the Government with anger over the cost of living topping voters' concerns. Labour also fought the contest against the backdrop of the resignation of Wendy Alexander as the party's leader in Scotland, after breaking rules against declaring personal donations.
The SNP took advantage of the disillusionment of previous Labour voters to achieve a result that had seemed unlikely just days before. The party's leader, Alex Salmond, visited the seat 11 times as the SNP sensed a stunning victory was in its grasp. On the eve of polling, he had claimed the parties were "neck-and-neck", adding: "The ground is shaking and shuddering. I think the earthquake is coming and it will arrive on time and on schedule."
Speaking before defeat was confirmed, David Cairns, the Scottish Office minister, said: "The Prime Minister's fate does not hang on any one by-election... I think Gordon Brown will continue to be leader of the Labour Party and will lead us into the next election."
Nicola Sturgeon, of the SNP and a Scottish Health minister, hailed a "tremendously good night" for the party and said the swing against Labour had been of "epic proportions".
John Mason(SNP): 11,277 votes (43%) Majority: 365
*Margaret Curran(Labour): 10,912 (41.6%)
Davena Rankin (Conservative): 1,639 (6.3%)
Ian Robertson(Liberal Democrat): 915 (3.5%)
Others: 876 (3.3%)
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