/ 2 May 2008

Brown’s poll setback sees Tories ‘back in business’

Senior Labour figures said on Friday the party needed to re-engage with voters after it suffered a drubbing in local elections while delighted Tories said they were on course to win the next general election.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labour Party was on course to lose around 200 council seats — around a quarter of the party’s councillors who were up for election.

Meanwhile the Conservatives made gains across the country, while the Liberal Democrats beat Labour into third place, according to the BBC’s projected national share of the vote.

”We had an excellent night … taking far more seats than many of us had thought we might,” said Teresa May, the Conservative shadow leader of the House of Commons.

She said ”crucially” they had made breakthroughs in southern areas where Labour had enjoyed success under Tony Blair and also in the north, gaining control of Bury and winning seats in Labour heartlands such as Sunderland.

”These are very important moves forward for us. We recognise that if the general election isn’t for another two years, there’s still some hard work to be done.

”But I think this is very good progress we’ve made and a very good launch for the run-up to the next election.”

Government ministers rallied behind Brown, saying that the poor results were a consequence of a downturn in the economy which the prime minister would reverse.

”People are worried about the things that are happening internationally, about the housing market and domestic issues” John Denham,secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, told BBC TV.

”But if we show we have listened to people and we respond then we can get through the difficult times we’ve got at the moment and win the next election.”

Stephen Ladyman, a Labour Party vice-chairperson, said it would be a very different picture by the time of the next general election.

”We’ve got a lot of work to do, there’s no question about that. You are going to see how Gordon Brown can fight, you are going to really see what his mettle is,” he told Sky News.

Brown does not have to call a general election until 2010. Ladyman said it ”would be madness” to go to the polls based on these results.

Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, said it was a ”satisfactory” night for her party.

The Lib Dems gained 11 seats overall, winning control of Kingston-upon-Hull and St Albans but losing Liverpool.

”We’ve got a very good base for moving forward,” to Sky News.

John Curtice, politics professor at Strathclyde University, said the results meant the Conservative party was ”back in business”.

”The Conservatives can win the next election. They are not bound to … but the possibility of the Tories winning the next election is now on the cards.”

He said Labour’s woes had also helped the Liberal Democrats.

”The fact that the Labour party have done so badly is Nick Clegg’s salvation,” he said. – Reuters