By-election round up and the week's key appointments

Vote goes Labour's way
Vote goes Labour's way

The key political change this week was the election of Iain Wright as Labour MP for Hartlepool following a by-election caused by Peter Mandelson's appointment as the UK's European Commissioner.

Mr Wright took the seat for Labour with 12,752 votes (40.6 per cent), ahead of the Liberal Democrats with 10,719 (34 per cent), followed by UKIP on 3193 (10 per cent) with the Conservatives coming in fourth with 3044 (9.7 per cent.)

Though Labour held the seat, it is with a much reduced majority (Mr Mandelson had a majority of nearly 15,000).

Labour's newest MP, Mr Wright, said that the victory was a "ringing endorsement" of Labour policies, and that: "Tonight's result is great news for Tony Blair, a huge disappointment for Charles Kennedy and an absolute disaster for Michael Howard."

The Conservative Party co-chair, Dr Liam Fox, acknowledged that that the result was "disappointing" but sought to focus instead on the swing away from Labour.

Dr Fox, said: "They have come close to losing one of their safest seats. It demonstrates a complete collapse in trust for Tony Blair. People in Hartlepool know what we all know, that Labour are all talk, and they have punished them accordingly,"

He claimed that the reason for the Conservative setback was "tactical voting", saying it is "pointless" for commentators to read anything into the result in regards to the next general election.

Dr Fox added: "I am confident that those who were tempted to vote UKIP in a by-election, which isn't going to change a government, will look at those alternatives and back the Conservatives."

In Hartlepool though, even if all of UKIP voters had voted for the Conservatives they would still have been in third place. Roger Knapman, of UKIP, said: "Tonight means that we approach the General Election with some confidence.

"We beat the Liberal Democrats in the European elections. We beat the Conservatives tonight. We are on our way."

The Liberal Democrats were in buoyant mood after the result. Party president Simon Hughes, said: "This is another excellent result for the Liberal Democrats, maintaining our momentum.

"Across the length and breadth of England two party politics is over and three party politics is here to stay.

"This has been totally disastrous for the Conservatives who have been humiliated into fourth place. What it underlines is that the Liberal Democrats are the real opposition in British politics."

As Parliament is currently in recess until October 11th, it is not perhaps surprising that there have been no changes to the Government or the front bench of any of the major political parties.

The focus instead has been on the party conferences, with Labour's finishing this Thursday, and the Conservatives' due to start on Sunday.

The only other significant change has been a shake-up of the SNP's membership of parliamentary committees. Much of the change has just seen MSPs moving from one committee to another, but the former leadership challenger Roseanna Cunningham has lost her position on three different committees.