The opposition Labor Party captured a House of Commons seat from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in a special parliamentary election Thursday in London’s Fulham district.
The victor, Nicholas Raynsford, drew 16,451 votes, the Conservative candidate was second with 12,948 and the Liberal-Social Democratic Alliance entry trailed with 6,953. None of eight fringe candidates polled more than 250 votes.
Raynsford said in his victory speech that the election had been a “crucial test” for the government.
“The people of Fulham have given a quite clear and unequivocal verdict,” he said. “They have voted against the policies of the Conservative government and they have voted for change.”
The Fulham election is the first since Thatcher’s government was rocked by the resignations of two Cabinet members during a dispute over competing U.S. and European bids to bail out Britain’s financially troubled Westland helicopter company.
First Since 1982
Fulham is the first seat Labor has taken from Conservatives in a special election since 1982.
Opinion polls had shown Raynsford as the clear favorite, with Conservative Matthew Carrington second and Alliance challenger Roger Liddle third.
The special election was called after Martin Stevens, the Conservative member of Parliament from Fulham, died last January in Paris of what was decribed as an infection believed caused by an animal bite he received in West Africa.
2 More Elections Due
The Fulham contest is the first of three special elections this spring to fill vacancies in Parliament. The races were seen as tests of Thatcher’s popularity with voters prior to a general election expected within 18 months.
No dates have been set for other special elections for Conservative seats in Derbyshire and Yorkshire.
An opinion poll published Thursday by the Guardian newspaper showed the Labor Party favored by 35% of the voters nationwide. The Conservatives trailed with 32%, and 30% favored the alliance of the Social Democratic and Liberal parties.
Economy Key Issue
The economy was considered the key national issue in the Fulham campaign. Raynsford alleged that Thatcher’s policies have increased unemployment in the district, but Carrington cited decreased inflation and increased home ownership as reasons for voting Conservative.
Fulham, an area contrasting neat Victorian homes on tree-lined streets and gloomy public housing projects, was a Labor stronghold from the end of World War II until 1979, when Thatcher came to power. The district in recent years has become a favorite of well-to-do professionals, who generally vote Conservative.