2845Brown's party loses London as routed in UK elections
- May 2, 2008http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL0167944520080502?feedType=nl&feedName=ustopnewsevening
Brown's party loses London as routed in UK elections
Fri May 2, 2008 7:34pm EDT
By Tim Castle and Katherine Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - 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
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 the rout was just mid-term
blues from which Labour can recover before the next
general election, due by mid-2010 at the latest, or
whether the tide has turned towards the Conservatives.
Accepting the post, Johnson said he hoped his victory
represented a turning point for the party which has
been in opposition since Blair swept to power in 1997.
"I do not for one minute believe that this election
shows that London has been transformed overnight into
a Conservative city but I do hope it does show that
the Conservatives have changed into a party that can
again be trusted," he said.
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.
"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.
With all the results counted from local councils in
England and Wales, Labour had lost 331 councilors and
the Conservatives had gained 252. Analysts said
anything more than 200 losses for Labour would be a
very bad result.
"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."
BROWN EYES RELAUNCH
Despite the upset, most Labour lawmakers said the
party would be foolish to start casting around for a
new leader and Brown was preparing a fight back with
plans to unveil a new legislative program, possibly as
early as next week.
The Treasury will also be under pressure to come up
with new measures to restore Labour's credibility on
the economy -- hard won over the past 10 years when
Brown was finance minister but squandered in recent
months after a mistake over tax rates.
But the gloomy economic news continued to roll in.
British house prices suffered their biggest annual
fall in 15 years in April, according to Britain's
largest mortgage lender, HBOS Plc.
"If the economic crisis continues through 2010,
Brown's dead in the water," MORI pollster Robert
Worcester told Reuters.
The Conservatives, the once dominant party of Margaret
Thatcher and Winston Churchill, were in buoyant mood
after more than a decade in the political wilderness.
They scored victories in the north of England where
they have struggled and in Labour heartlands in Wales.
Labour lost Reading council, its last remaining
stronghold in the wealthy southeast of England.
"I think this is a very big moment for the
Conservative Party, but I don't want anyone to think
that we would deserve to win an election just on the
back of a failing government," said Conservative
leader David Cameron.
(Additional reporting by David Clarke, Sumeet Desai,
Jodie Ginsberg, Michael Holden, Paul Majendie and
Astrid Zweynert; Editing by David Clarke and Ibon Villelabeitia)