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Brown's party loses London as routed in UK elections

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSL0167944520080502?feedType=nl&feedName=ustopnewsevening Brown s party loses London as routed in UK elections Fri May
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2008

      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
      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 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."


      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)
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