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British Conservatives win seat, weaken Brown

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LONDON - Britain's Conservative Party won a special election that was viewed as a barometer of Labor Party leader and Prime Minister Gordon Brown's popularity, according to vote results today.

Conservative candidate Edward Timpson handily defeated his left-wing competitor Tamsin Dunwoody to take the parliamentary seat of Crewe and Nantwich in northwestern England, beating her 20,539 votes to 12,679.

The loss in a Labor stronghold could help to erode Mr. Brown's authority and embolden his critics within the party. The party had held the district since 1983.

Mr. Brown is struggling to recover from devastating Labor Party setbacks in local elections earlier this month and from nationwide polls showing grave doubts about his leadership since taking over last summer after Tony Blair stepped down.

It was to Mr. Brown that Mr. Timpson directed his ire as he addressed voters after his victory was announced.

"Above all, you have sent a message, that Gordon Brown just does not get it, and government needs to change," Mr. Timpson said as supporters applauded.

The special election was called after the death of longtime Labor Party legislator Gwyneth Dunwoody, Tamsin's mother.

Mr. Brown, who served as Treasury chief under Mr. Blair for a decade, must call a general election by mid-2010 and faces increased grumbling in Labor Party ranks about the party's fading prospects of staying in power.

The victory, the first by Conservatives in a special election against Labor in more than three decades, represents a vindication for Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who only last year was facing rumbles of discontent from within his own party.

Mr. Cameron campaigned aggressively on behalf of Mr. Timpson, but Mr. Brown kept clear of Ms. Dunwoody, whose mother was a popular Labor legislator and held the seat for 25 years until her death.

Another special election is expected in a few months in Henley, where Conservative legislator Boris Johnson is expected to step down after becoming London mayor in a victory over two-term incumbent Ken Livingstone, a Labor politician.

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