Brown's Labour Party suffers setback in local polls

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party appeared to be headed for a drubbing in key local polls as results poured in Friday showing the party had suffered nationwide losses.


LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown was heading for a "mauling" in his first electoral test
with his ruling Labour Party recording its worst performance in
local polls in three decades, early results showed on Friday.

Political commentators said Brown's party was set to lose
about 200 local council seats with its national share of the
vote plunging well below the opposition Conservatives, putting
it in third place overall.

The results were a damning verdict on Brown's first year in
power since taking over from Tony Blair and the poor showing
could raise questions about his leadership, analysts said.

But ministers said the poll reflected a downturn in the
economy caused by the worldwide credit crunch and Brown would
bounce back to win the next national election.

"There's no crisis. This isn't something that's going to
affect the fundamental stability of the government," Cabinet
minister Geoff Hoon told BBC TV.

Governments in Britain traditionally suffer a bloody nose in
mid-term polls, when turnout is often low, and Brown does not
have to call a parliamentary election until 2010, by which time
he will be hoping the economic picture will have improved.

Some 4,000 seats on 160 councils across England and Wales
were up for grabs in Thursday's elections. With 98 councils
having reported results, Labour had lost 144 seats while the
Conservatives had gained 138.

The BBC projected that the Conservatives' share of the vote
was 44 percent with Labour on just 24 percent, pushed into third
place behind Britain's third party the Liberal Democrats.

John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University,
said the Conservatives had fared better than expected while
Labour had done even worse than the most dismal predictions.

He told Reuters the last time a party in government had
performed so badly in local polls was in 1995 when the
Conservatives polled just 25 percent, two years before they were
hammered in national elections by Labour under Blair.


Newspapers said Brown had been punished by voters angry over
his decision to abolish the lowest income tax band.

"Brown takes a local election hammering," the Daily
Telegraph said on its website. The Times said Labour had
experienced its "worst drubbing in 40 years" while the Guardian
said Brown had suffered a "mauling".

The former finance minister had enjoyed a brief honeymoon
with voters after he took over from Blair in June.

But the media and opposition accused him of dithering over
calling a snap election in October -- a move he eventually
decided against -- and he has also been beset by party
in-fighting, economic turmoil and industrial unrest.

"This has been very, very bad for Labour," senior
Conservative lawmaker Teresa May told Reuters.

"I think people have been giving the Labour Party a very
clear message. They want a change, and the change that this
country needs people now recognise is the Conservatives."

Attention will now be fixed on London where two political
mavericks are battling for the job of mayor in the closest
election since the office was created eight years ago.

Victory for Conservative candidate Boris Johnson in the race
to be mayor of London would be a major boost for the party's
leader Cameron, who will try to end a Labour run of three
successive parliamentary election triumphs.

A win for incumbent Ken Livingstone in the London poll,
which will be announced later on Friday, would provide some
relief for Brown whose popularity has plunged in recent months
along with his reputation for economic management.

"Ken Livingstone stands between Gordon Brown and ... a
disaster," Curtice said.

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