Britain's ruling Conservative Party suffered humiliation Friday after a nationwide protest vote against the deeply unpopular Prime Minister John Major inflicted defeat in five parliamentary by-elections.
In the most bruising defeat for Major, the centrist Liberal Democrats won the seat of Eastleigh in southern England, relegating the Conservatives to third place. In the 1992 general election, the Conservatives won the seat by 17,700 votes.Opposition parties said the results were a devastating indictment of the government and increased the pressure on Major to step down or call a general election.
"Mr Major, if you're watching, the message from the people of Eastleigh is change your policies or change your job," said jubilant David Chidgey, the victor from the minority Liberal Democrats.
Major will now anxiously await the results of Thursday's vote in the European parliament elections, due early Monday.
If the Conservatives lose more than half their 32 seats, Major is expected to launch a root-and-branch Cabinet reshuffle during the summer in a last-ditch attempt to keep his job.
Senior Conservative officials said the losses were very disappointing but tried to explain them away as a midterm protest vote by Britons angry at recent tax increases.