The New Labour government headed by PM Gordon Brown sank deeper into crisis after it lost the Crewe and Nantwich by-election — occasioned by the death of the sitting MP Gwyneth Dunwoody — to the Conservatives on May 22.
The May 23 British Guardian reported that this was the Conservative Party's first by-election win since 1982, and the first time that the Conservatives had taken a seat from Labour in a by-election since 1978. Labour stalwart Gwyneth Dunwoody had held the seat for decades and held a 7078-vote majority.
A swing of 17.6% away from Labour saw this converted into a 7860 majority for the Conservatives. Labour, which had been reeling from a disastrous showing in the May 1 local council elections, had held a mini-budget days before the by-election in which it announced a £2.7 billion package to compensate 80% of the 5.3 million households adversely affected by its decision to abolish the 10p starting rate of tax.
In addition, Labour parachuted Dunwoody's daughter Tasmin into Crewe as the Labour candidate and also ran a racist campaign playing on voters' fears about immigration from Poland.
The May 24 Morning Star quoted left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell as saying: "It would be an immense misreading of the situation for new Labour ministers to dismiss this result as simply mid-term blues. This result demonstrates the overwhelming anger and contempt in which new Labour is now held by our traditional supporters."
Brown now faces a torrid (northern) summer. His proposals to implement a 42-day arrest without charge "anti-terrorist" law look set to spark a rebellion amongst backbench Labour MPs and his plans to impose below-inflation pay settlements on public sector workers are likely to result in widespread industrial unrest in the coming months.