Feltham and Heston byelection: Labour wins, but turnout tumbles

Seema Malhotra becomes MP in west London byelection after death of Alan Keen, increasing party's majority

Labour comfortably held onto the west London seat of Feltham and Heston in a byelection early on Friday morning, raising hopes among supporters of Ed Miliband that a whispering campaign against his leadership will die down over Christmas.

Seema Malhotra, a former adviser to Harriet Harman, retained the seat for Labour after a swing of 8.56% points from the Tories.

Malhotra increased Labour's majority from 4,658 to 6,203 when she won with 12,639 votes. Mark Bowen, the Conservative candidate, came second with 6,436 votes. Roger Crouch, the Liberal Democrat, fought off a challenge from the UK Independence Party to hold third place with 1,364 votes. UKIP won 1,276 votes.

The actual Labour vote fell noticeably after a low turnout of 28.7% – thirty points below the figure for the general election and the lowest in a byelection in eleven years.

The byelection was caused by the death last month of Alan Keen who held the seat with a majority of 4,658 at the general election last year. Keen captured the seat from the Tories in 1992.

Malhotra said: "This result is a great victory for Labour which shows the progress we are making under Ed Miliband's leadership, a vote of confidence in the way Labour is changing, listening hard, winning back the trust of the people we seek to serve.

"But this is also a wake-up call for David Cameron. This result shows how this Tory led government is totally out of touch."

Jim Fitzpatrick, the shadow transport minister, said that Labour had performed well because of fears over the economy. Speaking in the constituency on Sky News before the declaration, Fitzpatrick said: "This is a seat the Tories had to win last year to win the general election. They have failed to do that and they have gone backwards. Labour is making steady and significant progress.

"This was about the economy. Europe didn't really feature very much. Youth unemployment has almost trebled here in less than one year. The economy, unemployment – these are the issues people here are worried about. The government's economic strategy has been rejected here by the people this evening."

Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West, said: "The British people just don't think [Labour] gets it. [Labour's] plan may be a Plan B but it is a plan for bankruptcy. This is a traditional Labour seat. Labour should be doing really well. We would expect them, in a standstill position, to be getting a swing of anywhere between 15% to 18%. Unless they do that they have gone backwards."

The Labour leadership will hope that a solid performance in a seat which the Tories won in the Thatcher landslides in 1983 and 1987 will stabilise Miliband's position after a tough week. Labour MPs have started to question his leadership after he struggled at prime minister's questions on Wednesday.

But supporters of Tony Blair are likely to echo the argument of the Tories – that Labour should be performing more strongly in a byelection when the government is facing such a grave economic crisis.

Some Blairites say that members of the Miliband circle are too complacent about the party's poll ratings which have placed Labour narrowly ahead of the Tories for much of the year. An opposition needs to have a lead in double figures over the government to be sure of securing an overall majority at the next election.

Malhotra worked for Harman while she served as acting leader of the Labour party after Gordon Brown's resignation. A management consultant, who has worked for Accenture and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Malhotra advised Liam Byrne and Ian Austin before the election when they were regional ministers for the West Midlands.


Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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