June 5, 2009 / 3:14 PM / 10 years ago

Labour suffers "wipeout" at local polls

LONDON (Reuters) - Labour saw its popular support evaporate on Friday after it lost control of all the English county councils it was defending following heavy defeats in local elections across the country.

A woman prepares to vote at a polling station in the remote village of Biggin, northern England, June 4, 2009. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

In Staffordshire, under Labour control since 1981, councillor Derek Davis said his party had suffered a “complete wipe-out” after losing 28 seats as the Conservatives romped home.

“I’ve been a member of the Labour party since 1963 and I’ve never known it as bad as this,” said Davis. “This is the lowest ebb I have ever known,” he told BBC television.

Labour also lost Derbyshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, thereby losing control of its last four county councils in England.

The Liberal Democrats lost control of Somerset to the Conservatives for the first time since 1989.

“Today’s results are remarkable,” said Tory leader David Cameron.

“The Conservative Party have won all over the country — from Lancashire to Devon and Somerset to Derbyshire. We have won councils that we haven’t held for three decades.”

The BBC calculated that Labour’s projected share of the national vote had slumped to 23 percent, behind the Conservatives on 38 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 28 percent.

If early results were repeated at a general election, the Conservatives would form the next government with a 28-seat majority, Sky News said.

“These are very bad results,” Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell told BBC television.

The recriminations started early as former deputy prime minister John Prescott said that Labour had run a “non-campaign” in Thursday’s elections for councils and the European parliament.

“Whilst I knew we were short of money I didn’t realise we also lacked the will to fight these elections,” Prescott wrote in a blog on the LabourHome website.

Conservative successes also included taking Devon and Somerset from the Liberal Democrats.

There was some compensation for the Lib Dems after they gained control of Bristol.

Most of the 34 county and unitary councils holding elections on Thursday had waited until Friday morning to start counting votes.

By late evening the Conservatives had gained 285 seats while Labour was down 329, with the Lib Dems losing 48, according to declared results from 34 councils compiled by Sky News.

European poll results will not be counted until Sunday, when most other European countries vote.

Additional reporting by Stefano Ambrogi and David Milliken

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