Tory victory in by-election

A Tory victory on Wearside today cast doubt over whether Gordon Brown will call a snap General Election.

All eyes were on Washington as Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats battled it out at the ballot box to win a seat in Washington East.

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But the Sunderland Council result will have been a blow to Brown as Tory candidate Angela Cuthbert snatched a seat from Labour.

There have been rumours that Gordon Brown had been watching council by-election results across the country to gauge whether or not he should take the country to the polls.

Leader of the Conservatives in Sunderland, Lee Martin, said: "There is no doubt that Downing Street are aware of the results and this leaves a big question mark over how Labour are doing in their own heartland.

"I think this will have put doubt in Gordon Brown's mind. I also think this will have massive implications for the Sunderland Central Parliamentary seat as it sends a message out to every Tory in the constituency – turn out and vote for the main opposition party."

Last night's win brings the total number of Tory seats in the city up to 17, the highest number the party has had since 1981.

The party also won two Washington seats in the May elections for the first time since Washington became part of Sunderland.

Coun Martin added: "May was the first time in 30 years that Washington has elected Conservative councillors and I think we can massively increase that next year.

"Our message is clear – we are back in business as the opposition party."

Coun Ian Cuthbert, husband and campaign manager of the newly-elected councillor, won a Washington seat in May.

He said: "It was a fantastic result and is an indication of all the work we put in."

Labour said they were disappointed with the result but vowed to fight back in the next local elections.

Leader of the city's Labour group, Bob Symonds, said: "We are very disappointed with the result. It's possibly because now we are starting to catch up with the boundary changes a couple of years ago.

"We will look at the situation and find out where the problems are and move forward in time for May next year."

Labour won the by-election in Chester-le-Street District Council's Central Ward taking 59 per cent of the vote.

The new councillor is 36-year-old Lawson Armstrong, an official of the Associaton of Teachers and Lecturers' Union.