The overall winners and losers

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Indy Politics

After results from 170 councils:
Con.: 1,754 councillors (+286)
Lab.: 1,314 (-292)
Lib. Dem.: 891 (+13)
Other: 215 (-1)

Who is up and who is down after yesterday's local elections in 176 local authority areas in England?

LABOUR

This morning's results are nothing short of disastrous for Tony Blair, his worst electoral debacle since he became Labour leader in 1994.

Not since Harold Wilson's nightmare year of 1968 has Labour experienced such a bloodbath in council elections, losing control of flagship local authorities like Hammersmith & Fulham, Merton and Camden in London. Labour lost more than 250 councillors from an already low base.

Party officials acknowledged that they had taken a pasting in London and the South, but took solace from the Conservatives' failure to make a breakthrough in the cities of the North.

Senior aides suggested that the results reflected a "north-south divide" in England's political landscape, with the Tory revival confined to their traditional strongholds in southern counties and the capital.

And they were relieved that Labour did not appear to have dropped into third place behind the Liberal Democrats in overall share of the vote, as they did in 2004.

The scale of Labour's collapse made a swift Cabinet reshuffle inevitable and has increased pressure on Mr Blair to hasten his departure from office.

Backbench MPs, rattled by the sight of Labour councillors being toppled in their constituencies, were openly demanding "clarity" from the Prime Minister over when he would hand over the reins of power. And there were demands that he should give his successor - probably Chancellor Gordon Brown - plenty of time to establish himself for the General Election of 2009-10.

Mr Blair's deputy, John Prescott, was one of the biggest losers of the night. He saw the Liberal Democrats become the largest party in his backyard of Hull and is expected to take most of the blame for Labour's drubbing at the polls.

CONSERVATIVES

David Cameron passed his first electoral test since becoming Conservative leader last December with flying colours.

His supporters were hailing the Tories' night of success as a vindication of Mr Cameron's efforts to change the party's image.

His high-risk strategy of putting environmental issues at the heart of his campaign and downplaying traditional Conservative concerns like tax and law and order appeared to have paid off.

As champagne corks popped, party strategists were predicting that the Conservatives could break through the 40% barrier in terms of overall share of the vote, bringing to an end a long period in which the party has " flatlined" on 31%-34%.

Dramatic gains in London councils like Bexley and Hammersmith & Fulham, where the Tories seized power directly from Labour, left no doubt that the Conservatives are once more a force to be reckoned with in the capital.

But Mr Cameron will recognise that he still has a mountain to climb on his key strategic priority of re-establishing a Conservative presence in the cities. In Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield, not a single Conservative councillor is thought to have been elected.

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Despite the dramatic unseating of Charles Kennedy and his replacement as leader by Sir Menzies Campbell earlier this year, the Liberal Democrats appear to have done little more than tread water.

The main beneficiaries from Labour's difficulties were Conservatives, while the Lib Dems' share of votes and seats remained virtually unchanged.

Sir Menzies had been hoping to gain momentum by picking up significant numbers of new councillors and is certain to be disappointed with the failure to make more progress.

But party strategists pointed out that he was starting from a high base achieved by Mr Kennedy the last time these seats were contested in 2002 and 2004.

Lib Dem results were variable across the country. The party increased their majority in the flagship council of Newcastle upon Tyne and gained seats in London authorities like Haringey and Camden.

But they lost ground in Islington, where they ceded their overall majority and are expected to rely on the mayor's casting vote to exercise control.

OTHERS

The British National Party enjoyed its most successful election yet, seizing 11 of the 13 seats it contested in Barking and Dagenham in east London, and getting councillors elected in Stoke-on-Trent, Sandwell and Solihull in the West Midlands.

The Green Party also had a good night, increasing its total number of councillors from 71 to 88. On Norwich City Council, the party boosted its representation by four to a record total of nine.

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