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Tories grab Norwich house seat

BRITAIN'S opposition Conservatives won a parliamentary seat from the ruling Labour party yesterday, securing a big majority that would give them a landslide if repeated at a national election due within a year.

The poll for the Norwich North seat, prompted after the local member of parliament resigned in protest at being punished for his role in an expenses scandal, was being watched for clues to the outcome of the forthcoming general election.

Conservative candidate Chloe Smith, who at 27 becomes Britain's youngest MP, beat her Labour rival into second place by a commanding margin. She captured 39.5 percent of the vote, against a Labour share of only just over 18 percent.

Labour had held the seat in eastern England since Tony Blair swept to power in a landslide victory in 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative rule.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who faced down an internal party revolt last month, said the outcome was "clearly a disappointing result".

Markets expect a Conservative government by this time next year, but are nervous about the size of the majority and the implications that has for reducing a bloated budget deficit.

"We're getting to the point now where the country is ready for a change in government," said Julia Clark, of pollster Ipsos MORI.

Political commentators said Labour had been expected to lose the seat, but the size of the defeat could prompt fresh discontent over Brown's leadership.

The defeat came after data showed the British economy still shrinking more rapidly than expected. Labour is forecasting recovery will begin by the end of the year after the worst recession since World War II and it hopes that an improvement will boost its poll prospects.


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