Labour Party racks up early losses in local UK polls


London : Britain’s ruling Labour Party was suffering disappointing returns in local and regional elections, the last of the Blair era, but the results that rolled in early Friday showed that in many areas the party was able to avert expected heavy losses.

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In Scotland, however, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates separation from the UK, achieved gains in Thursday’s voting.

In voting for the regional parliament in Wales as well as more than 300 local councils in England, Labour lost a series of seats, and in Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, the Conservative Party, led by opposition leader David Cameron, become the most powerful party.

But Labour defended a number of seats that had been considered endangered.

As counting began after polls closed late Thursday, commentators predicted that Labour’s national share of the vote could drop below 25 percent with the opposition Conservatives and Liberal Democrats making gains.

It was expected that the outcome would have a direct impact on national politics, given that Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected to soon step down after 10 years in office.

Commentators have said the polls would also be a “final judgement” on the Blair era and, in particular, on Britain’s involvement in Iraq.

Labour’s performance would also determine the political landscape to be inherited by Blair’s successor, most likely Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer.

Nearly 40 million voters were called to the polls across the country, except London.

In Scotland, where Labour has been the dominating party for 50 years, the nationalist SNP could become the biggest party in the regional parliament for the first time.

Such a turnaround could trigger moves to change the 300-year union between England and Scotland, to be backed by a future referendum.