UK’s Labour Party braced for losses in local elections


London : Britain’s ruling Labour Party was braced Friday for heavy losses in local elections, which are the last of the Tony Blair era.

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

Although reliable results will not be known until Friday, it is expected that the outcome will have a direct impact on national politics, given that Blair is shortly expected to step down.

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

Labour’s performance will 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 Scottish National Party (SNP) could become the biggest party in the regional parliament for the first time.

That could trigger moves to the 300-year Union between England and Scotland, to be backed by a future referendum.

Blair, who has announced that next week he will specify a date for his promised departure from power, has publicly conceded that many Britons have lost trust in him over Iraq.

But he has also blamed “mid-term blues” for the anticipated losses.

The Conservatives, who are leading Labour in national popularity surveys, Thursday called on voters to back their party under the rejuvenated leadership of David Cameron.