LONDON - Britain's Labour Party suffered its worst local election defeat on record and lost control of London on Friday, forcing Prime Minister Gordon Brown to rethink his strategy to avoid losing the next national poll.
Conservative Boris Johnson, a journalist-turned-lawmaker prone to gaffes, wrested the prized post of London mayor from Labour's maverick Ken Livingstone, who has run the sprawling metropolis of some 7.5 million people since 2000.
The election results were a major blow to Brown, who enjoyed a brief honeymoon with voters after he took over from Tony Blair, but has since been beset by economic turmoil, industrial unrest, administrative blunders and an image problem.
Contrite Labour ministers and lawmakers said the government had failed to address Britons' fears of rising food and energy prices, higher mortgages and a possible housing market slump.
The question now is whether Labour can recover before the next general election, due by mid-2010 at the latest, or whether the tide has turned towards the Conservatives.
"People are sending a clear and strong message. There's a lot of dissatisfaction. If we deal with it we can turn things around, if we don't we'll go down," Labour lawmaker Geraldine Smith told Reuters.
According to BBC predictions the Conservatives won 44 percent of the national vote in the local elections versus 25 percent for the Liberal Democrats and just 24 percent for Labour -- its worst share since comparable records began in 1973.
"It's clear to me that this has been a disappointing night, indeed a bad night for Labour," Brown told reporters. "My job is to listen and to lead and that is what I will do."