Britain's ruling Labor Party won a surprise election victory in a Scottish town Friday, a sign Prime Minister Gordon Brown's handling of the financial crisis has revived his political fortunes.
Just months ago, some Labor members openly questioned Brown's leadership after the party scored poorly in local elections and fell 20 points behind the opposition Conservatives in the opinion polls, reported Reuters.
But Brown's determined handling of the banking meltdown has cut the Conservative lead to nine points, despite economists warning that Britain is on the brink of recession.
Thursday's vote for a parliamentary seat in Scotland, where Labor's main rival is the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), provided the first firm evidence at the ballot box of a "Brown bounce."
The comfortable margin came as a surprise as bookmakers had tipped the SNP, which overturned a huge Labor majority in another parliamentary election in Scotland in July, to win.
Hours before the polls opened, Labor figures were briefing reporters that the party had failed to close the gap.
The SNP reduced Labor's majority in Glenrothes, a former coal-mining area bordering Brown's own constituency. But it held on to the seat, vacated after the sitting Labor member of parliament died, by more than 6,700 votes.
"With Gordon Brown interest rates are at a record low, helping hard-working families ... With Gordon Brown, Labor has won here in Glenrothes," Labor candidate Lindsay Roy, the head teacher at Brown's old school, said in his victory speech.
Newspapers hailed Brown as "the comeback king" and said the win would silence talk of an internal leadership challenge.
"Against the odds, Brown bounce is back," a headline in the Times said above an analysis which said Labor was back in the race to win the next election, due by mid-2010.
"Six weeks ago there were huge questions over whether he would lead Labor into the next election. Now there are none," wrote Philip Webster in the Times.
The election was held Thursday as the Bank of England slashed British interest rates by 1.5 points to 3 percent, the lowest in more than 50 years, to try to avert a deep recession.
Some commentators predicted that a win in Glenrothes might tempt Brown to call a snap parliamentary election before the economy worsens, although this is unlikely.
"He would be a fool if he did," Professor John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, told Reuters.
"Until you've got opinion polls which show the Labor party at least five points ahead of the Conservatives you are not even thinking about holding a general election."
The British economy shrank for the first time in 16 years in the third quarter, house prices have fallen by around 15 percent in the last year and businesses are laying off workers.
The International Monetary Fund forecast that Britain would suffer a deeper downturn than leading industrial rivals.
The Conservatives are keen to lay the blame for Britain's economic underperformance at Brown's door: he was in charge of the economy as finance minister for 10 years before becoming prime minister last year.
But polls show voters see Brown as competent to govern in an economic crisis.
He has won praise at home and globally for his package of loans and guarantees to prop up the financial sector.