The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Labour takes a knock

London, May 2 (Reuters): Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour Party took a knock today in British local elections, but any “Baghdad backlash” against his decision to wage war on Iraq appeared unlikely to dent his supremacy.

Blair’s main political opponent, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, seized control in 600 of the 10,000 local government seats up for grabs in England, a stronger showing for his struggling party than many had predicted.

But a senior Conservative ruined his celebrations by resigning on Thursday night and twisting the knife in Duncan Smith’s back by saying he had virtually no chance of reversing Blair’s successive landslide general election victories.

“We carry the handicap of a leader whom Conservatives...feel unable to present to the electorate as a credible alternative Prime Minister,” industry spokesman Crispin Blunt declared.

Nearly 40 million people were eligible to vote in the polls, for parliaments in Scotland and Wales and local councils in England yesterday, the sixth anniversary of the day Blair’s Labour Party stormed to power in 1997. Turnout for the council elections was barely one in three.

Conservatives won around 35 per cent of the vote in England, two percentage points up from the last time the same seats were contested in England, in 1999, but political analysts said it would not translate into major general election gains.

Labour took 30 per cent, six points down.

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