By Prasun Sonwalkar
London : As the Tony Blair era draws to a close, the Labour Party looks set to suffer its worst election losses in 50 years in England and Wales as results of the local elections began to be announced Friday.
All results of the elections held Thursday were expected to be in by Friday evening.
Next week, Blair is expected to announce the schedule of his stepping down as prime minister. Reports say he may become a roving ambassador and contribute to peace efforts in the Middle East after he steps down from office later this year.
But as votes of the local elections in Scotland, Wales and England were counted, it became clear that voters had delivered what is seen as the ‘critical final verdict’ on the Blair era. The party has braced itself for further losses as the counting began Friday morning.
Labour leaders claimed that they had avoided an electoral “disaster”. The contest in Scotland is still too close to call with half the results in, but it has been marred by problems with the voting system. In Wales, Labour looks likely to lose control of the Welsh assembly.
The Conservative party claimed that their 41 percent share of the vote in England put them on course for victory at the next general election. The Liberal Democrats appeared to be losing ground overall despite some high profile wins.
The election in Scotland has been overshadowed by an unprecedented number of spoilt ballot papers, which have been recorded across the country, with fears that the national figure could exceed 100,000.
BBC research suggests that as a projected national share of the vote, the Conservatives are on 41, one point up on 2006, Labour is on 27, also one point up, and the Lib Dems are down a point on 26.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that Blair will spurn the chance to earn up to 10 million pounds a year on the international lecture circuit by concentrating on raising money for his new Blair Foundation, which will fund humanitarian work in Africa.
Blair has also reportedly agreed to a request from President George W. Bush that he fly in to the Middle East when requested as a special envoy to try to revive the stalled peace process.