While Britain's Labour Party suffered heavy losses in the general election 2010, it perfomred strongly in local elections

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Labour makes local gains
but loses general election

By Andrew Stevens, UK Editor

8 May 2010: While Britain’s Labour Party lost more than 90 parliamentary seats in the 6 May general election, voters in England, who elected new councils on the same day, provided a surprising return to form for the centre-left party in local government. Labour was successful in retaking a number of London councils it had lost over the past decade and also regained Liverpool City Council after a decade out of power. All four elected mayors up for re-election secured a return to office. Voters in the East London Borough of Tower Hamlets also voted yes by a wide margin in a referendum on introducing an elected mayor.

Most media attention is now concentrated on the delicate negotiations taking place between the parties at national level as no one party has secured a majority of MPs (Members of Parliament) in the general election to the House of Commons. In spite of unprecedented levels of support during the campaign, the Liberal Democrat party actually lost seats, while the incumbent Labour government remains in power until a coalition between the others can be formed. The London mayor Boris Johnson is one of many Conservatives who have warned the party leadership about watering down their manifesto commitments in any deal with the Liberal Democrats.

Despite the elections for local councils also taking place on Thursday, counting for these did not commence until Friday as election staff prioritised national parliamentary seats. The elections on 6 May were marred by ugly scenes as a late surge of voters overwhelmed staff and many were not able to cast their ballots by the close of polls at 10pm, though some councils did allow voting beyond this. The UK Electoral Commission was criticised for not providing consistent advice to officers on what to do in the event of long queues, though the commission blamed Britain’s “Victorian” electoral system and promised a thorough review of procedures.

Labour’s three elected mayors in the capital, Hackney’s Jules Pipe, Lewisham’s Steve Bullock and Newham’s Robin Wales were all re-elected to third terms, as was the Liberal Democrat mayor Dorothy Thornhill in Watford. In Newham, Labour also regained its previous position of holding all 60 seats on the council, whereas in Lewisham the party regained control of the council having lost to no overall control in 2006. The Green Party in Lewisham, their base in the capital, were all but wiped out by the high turnout favouring Labour, despite gaining their first MP in Brighton. In neighbouring Greenwich, Labour confounded predictions of a slender majority and consolidated its grip on power. Prior to the elections, a number of political consultancies had predicted much worse results for Labour in the capital.

The faltering predictions continued with Labour retaking the London Boroughs of Brent, Camden, Enfield, Ealing, Hounslow, Islington, Southwark and Waltham Forest, while the Liberal Democrats lost their stronghold of Richmond to the Conservatives. Outside the capital, the Liberal Democrats lost control of Sheffield city council, home constituency of party leader Nick Clegg, to no overall control, while they also lost Liverpool to Labour. Labour also regained Coventry and Oxford city councils. In those councils which have an elected mayor, the Conservatives lost control of the council in North Tyneside, while in Hartlepool independent Stuart Drummond now sits with a Labour controlled council. Doncaster's English Democrat mayor Peter Davies now faces a Labour council majority also. For the most part however, many of those councils up for election saw no change in political control.

In Barking and Dagenham, where it also unsuccessfully tried to secure its first ever MP, the far right British National Party lost all of its council seats. In Tower Hamlets, the anti-war Respect party lost all but one of its council seats. Both parties were previously the second largest groups on the council. The referendum in Tower Hamlets on the question of an elected mayor saw the measure backed by 60 per cent of voters and an election to the post will take place in October. Having lost his parliamentary seat in the general election, all eyes will be on the proposal’s most enthusiastic backer anti-war campaigner George Galloway.

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