Labour blames global crisis for British local polls losses (Lead)

May 2nd, 2008 - 3:56 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 2 (IANS) Britain’s ruling Labour party Friday blamed the gloomy global economic climate after suffering its worst loss in four decades in elections to local bodies in the provinces of England and Wales. After 12 years in power, Labour lost 160 seats and the opposition Conservative party gained 147 as two-thirds of the results were declared mid-morning, with the position of the Liberal Democrats remaining unchanged.

But there were no calls for replacing Prime Minister Gordon Brown - rather for a change in policy direction.

“It’s very disappointing indeed,” said Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, putting down the losses to “rising food and fuel prices” and the government’s failure to respond swiftly to opposition to a tax proposal that critics claimed was anti-poor.

“People are feeling the pinch. We have to make sure the economy continues to grow and doesn’t fall into recession, with a sharp focus on employment,” Harman said, adding the party had to respond to people’s concerns about the global credit crunch.

The government needed to work with banks, which, “having lent excessively”, would have to ensure that “loans don’t dry up”.

It needed to ensure that “in what is a difficult period internationally, people can feel that this country is as stable economically as it can be”, Harman said.

Her comments came as analysts said Labour’s share of votes was the lowest since the 1960s, with the Conservative Party having made deep inroads into traditional Labour strongholds in Wales and northern England.

More than 4,000 seats in 159 councils were up for grabs in Thursday’s elections, as well as the London mayoralty and assembly.

The result of the high-profile mayoral battle - chiefly between Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone and his Conservative rival Boris Johnson - was set to be declared Friday evening but Labour officials said Thursday’s high turnout favoured Livingstone.

Despite the poor results, there were no immediate calls for replacing Brown, but analysts said there will be increasing demands for a change of style and policy direction.

Harman admitted the government “did not react early enough” when opposition mounted to a proposal to abolish the 10 pence tax rate on grounds that it would hit old age pensioners and poor families in Britain.

Friday’s results were described as the best for the Conservative party since its general election victory of 1992, and similar to the outcome of council elections in 1995 - when the Conservative party was drubbed by Labour, which went on to win general elections the next year.

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