The U.K.’s opposition Labour Party won the House of Commons district of Corby from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party in a special election sparked by the resignation of lawmaker Louise Mensch.
Labour’s Andy Sawford won with 17,267 votes, or 48.4 percent of all those cast in yesterday’s balloting, beating the Conservative candidate, Christine Emmett, who got 9,476 votes, or 26.6 percent. Mensch won the seat in central England with 42.2 percent of the vote at the general election in 2010.
“Middle England has spoken and they’ve sent a very clear message to David Cameron,” Sawford said in a speech after the result was announced today. “The road to Downing Street runs through Corby.”
The day had already seen Cameron’s policy of elected police commissioners greeted with voter apathy across the country, with fewer than one person in five voting. His approval ratings have slumped this year after his government cut tax for the highest earners, Conservative lawmakers bickered over policy toward the European Union and the economy failed to meet forecasts for growth.
Labour also held two other parliamentary seats in special elections in the districts of Manchester Central in northwest England, and Cardiff Central and Penarth in south Wales.
The elections yesterday for commissioners to oversee 41 local police forces were described as a “shambles” by Labour as some areas reported turnouts below 15 percent. In Staffordshire, central England, 11.6 percent of those eligible voted. With 23 results in, Labour and the Conservatives had won nine posts each, and independent candidates had won five.
“I’m obviously disappointed in the turnout,” Home Secretary Theresa May told the BBC. “First elections are always difficult. Next time around, people will have got more used to the idea.”
Both parties poured resources into the Corby contest, with Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague visiting the constituency during the campaign. Labour leader Ed Miliband and economy spokesman Ed Balls made repeated trips to the district.
“This constituency is at the heart of our country and this constituency has sent a very clear message,” Miliband told reporters after the result. “Middle England is turning away from David Cameron and the Conservatives.”
The U.K. Independence Party, which advocates withdrawal from the European Union, got 5,108 votes, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats came fourth with 1,770, losing the 500-pound ($790) deposit that candidates forfeit if they get less than 5 percent of the vote. In 2010 the party got 7,834 votes, 14.5 percent of the total.
“It’s a classic mid-term result and obviously made difficult by the fact that the Conservative MP left the seat in question,” Cameron told reporters. Mensch quit in August to move to the U.S. to be with her husband.
National opinion polls in recent months have given Labour a lead of about 10 percentage points over the Conservatives, enough to give the opposition party a majority of seats in the House of Commons if a general election were held now.