Blair backs direct polls for more towns

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Indy Politics

Plans for directly elected mayors across Britain were said to be on track yesterday, despite two embarrassing defeats for Labour at the hands of independents.

Downing Street said Tony Blair still believed mayors were the future for local government, notwithstanding the results in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister believes absolutely that mayors are the right way forward. They are a new form of government and it is to be expected that they will produce fresh faces. We believe it is right that local people should have a say both in deciding whether they want to have a mayor and who they want."

Charles Clarke, the Labour Party chairman, said that although important local issues had been aired in the mayoral contests, the election in Hartlepool of Stuart Drummond, a football mascot in a monkey costume, "ridicules the whole system".

Mr Clarke said: "There are some goods and some bads, but like all these experiments they are designed to encourage better ways of looking at local government and that's what we will continue to do."

Labour was victorious in three of the seven mayoral elections. Labour lost North Tyneside, a traditional Labour stronghold. There, the Conservative Chris Morgan beat off Labour's Eddie Darke to take the Mayor's office.