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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conservative's DefeatCuts Majority to One

LONDON -- Prime Minister John Major was disappointed but resolute Friday after a crushing by-election defeat cut his parliamentary majority to one seat and pushed Britain closer to a national poll.


The opposition Labour Party won a central England seat with a huge 22 percent swing and their leader, Tony Blair, said he would seize the chance to try to topple the government in a confidence vote.


Major, who has to call a general election by May 1997, said: "I am disappointed by last night's result, but politics is not an easy ride. I am here to do what is right and stick with it.


"We still have a lot of work to do to get our message across," he told Britain's Press Association news agency after his Conservative Party's latest defeat weakened his chances of holding on to power.


But Major, whose party has been buffeted by scandals and beset with divisions over Europe, was given a welcome boost by the Ulster Unionists, who have nine seats in the House of Commons and usually back the Conservatives.


"There will be no change in the path we have taken for years ... we do not see any reason to terminate the life of the government," said Martin Smyth, party manager for the main Protestant mouthpiece in Northern Ireland.


Labour candidate Brian Jenkins polled 26,155 votes in the Staffordshire Southeast constituency to trounce his Conservative rival, Jimmy James, by 13,762 votes.


Labour leader Blair, visiting Washington for talks with President Bill Clinton, said he was eager to provoke a confidence vote in parliament.


"Of course if an opportunity presents itself to remove this government, then it's not merely an opportunity, it is our duty as the opposition to try and remove them," he said.


The Conservatives, who trail Labour by about 30 points in national opinion polls because of disillusionment over broken tax-cut pledges and sleazy scandals, have not won a parliamentary by-election since 1989.


This was the seventh seat they have lost at by-elections in the current parliament -- four to the minority Liberal Democrats, two to Labour and one to the Scottish Nationalists.


At the 1992 general election, Major won a majority of 21 seats in the 651-seat parliament. But the seven by-election losses plus the desertion of three Conservative members of parliament have whittled this down to one.


Blair has jettisoned traditional socialist Labour policies and moved his party to the center ground of British politics. Attention will now focus on elections to be held May 2 for 3,000 seats on local councils around England.


Election experts say the outcome is likely to be dismal for the Conservatives because the local council seats were last fought just a few weeks after their 1992 general election triumph.