Tories tumbled to three council by-election defeats this week with gains for both Labour and Liberal Democrats.
Although Conservatives fared better in analysis of the overall voting figures, the results are still a blow for party leader Michael Howard as he struggles to land punches on the Government in the week of the Queen’s Speech, opening what is likely to be Parliament’s last session before the General Election.
Labour’s Trevor Crumpton scored a landslide victory to take an Old Warley seat off Tories at Sandwell Borough, West Midlands. The far right British National Party – which returned one councillor on the authority last June – was contained at 16%.
There was a second triumph for the party as candidate Jane Murphy gained at Salford Borough’s Eccles ward with Liberal Democrats finishing third behind Conservatives.
But Labour lost to Independent Eric Wood at Cumbria’s Old Barrow division. Turnout slumped to below 14%.
Liberal Democrats more than compensated for their loss by taking two seats off Tories and one previously held by an independent.
Their candidate Malcolm Armstrong won from Conservatives at Winnersh, Wokingham District, Berkshire in the constituency of shadow cabinet member John Redwood.
Party colleague John Williams took South Cambridgeshire District’s Duxford seat by just 18 votes.
The third Liberal Democrat triumph came at Abbey ward, Romsey, at Hampshire’s Test Valley Borough when Sally Lamb snapped up an independent vacancy.
Analysis of 19 comparable results this month gives Tories a projected 4% nationwide lead compared with a 0.3% Labour margin last month.
A calculation based on 16 contests where all three major parties stood both times gives a line-up of C 38.1%, Lab 33.9%, Lib Dem 22.9%. These figures have been adjusted to take account of differences between parties’ relative council and General Election performances, show by analysis for the BBC, when both were on the same day in June 2001.