UK Brown face first electoral test

Polls opened in key local elections Thursday amid predictions that the Labour Party could suffer heavy losses that would call Prime Minister Gordon Brown's leadership into question.

UK Brown face first electoral test

Labour has seen support plummet to its lowest since Margaret Thatcher's heyday in the late 1980s in the months since Tony Blair stepped down last June, and the local council and London Mayor elections are the party's first real test since Brown took over.

In London, where Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone has been in power for eight years, the party is locked in a tight battle, with Livingstone and Conservative opponent Boris Johnson running neck-and-neck in polls that are seen as a harbinger for a future general election, due in the next two years.

The capital is a big political prize: the mayor controls an annual budget of more than 11 billion pounds and his policy decisions affect 7.5 million Londoners and the millions more who visit.

Victory for the Conservative Party over Livingstone would be a symbolic boost for the centre-right Tories at a time when they are riding high in the opinion polls.

A third consecutive four-year term for Livingstone, however, could reassure centre-left Labour that their recent dip in form is only temporary and they can recover before the country goes to the polls sometime before May 2010.

Brown has himself recognised that the government has faced a hard time as the impact of the global credit crunch begins to bite, hitting the housing market and economic growth, alongside rising food and fuel prices.

But in an interview with GMTV Tuesday he refused to be drawn about whether he expected a "kicking" at the ballot box.

Some 13,000 candidates are fighting for more than 4,000 seats on 159 municipal councils in England and Wales as well as the 25-member London Assembly, which holds the capital's mayor to account.

Analysts predict that Labour will do well to better their performance the last time the seats were contested in 2004, when they came third in the national vote equivalent with a 30 percent share of the vote.

Then, the fall-out from Britain's involvement in the widely unpopular Iraq war hit them hard, but the party still recovered to win the 2005 general election, albeit with a reduced parliamentary majority.

This time, domestic issues, particularly the government's recent economic record, could be a factor.

There was widespread opposition to the use of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money to prop up the Northern Rock bank, which collapsed in the wake of the global credit crunchand was later nationalised.

The government's abolition of the 10 percent tax threshold has also caused outrage in the Labour ranks, with claims the party had abandoned its core principles of helping the most needy in society.

Brown himself admitted he made mistakes over the tax reform, and threatened with a parliamentary rebellion, he made concessions last week, but analysts believe the damage may already have been done.

Barring recounts, results for 100 of the 159 councils are expected late Thursday into early Friday. The remainder are due from midday Friday, with London's next mayor one of the last to be declared.


Reuters

Last Mod: 01 Mayıs 2008, 16:04
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