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Conservative Candidate Wins

July 23, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ In a special election seen as a key test for Britain’s two major parties, the Conservatives on Thursday held onto a wealthy parliamentary district that the ruling Labor government had hoped to wrest away.

Conservative Stephen O’Brien outdistanced Labor’s Margaret Hanson by 1,606 votes in Eddisbury, a sprawling 67,086-voter district in Cheshire. Voter turnout was 51 percent.

Issues included Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labor government’s plan to ban fox-hunting and high gasoline prices. But the main issue was political status.

The Conservatives, who held Eddisbury by a narrow 1,185-vote margin in the May 1997 national elections, needed victory to argue that despite low popularity ratings they are recovering.

Blair campaigned personally for Hanson in Eddisbury on Wednesday. He was jeered and jostled by Conservative supporters.

``The people of Eddisbury have sent a clear message to Tony Blair,″ O’Brien said after the results were announced.

The result makes scant difference to the power balance in the 659-member House of Commons where Labor has a huge 178-seat overall majority.

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