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Friday, May 7, 1999 Published at 03:29 GMT 04:29 UK

Celebrations for all in local polls

Labour lost Sheffield to the Liberal Democrats

The local elections in Britain have seen gains for the Conservative Party in some of their traditional heartlands.

Without the total results from Scotland and Wales, the majority of which do not begin counting until Friday morning, the picture is by no means complete.

Vote 99 Special Coverage
But the Tories' target of 1,000 seats was being celebrated before those counts even began.

The scores of councils now under Tory control must come as a relief to the party's leader William Hague.

But despite the rosy picture for Mr Hague this could still be the worst performance by an opposition two years into a Parliament.

[ image: Wiliam Hague: Relief at Tory wins]
Wiliam Hague: Relief at Tory wins
If the Conservatives do achieve 33% of the vote cast, as analysts were predicting early in the night, that would still be four points lower than Labour achieved in 1985.

It has been estimated that the Tories should look to gain up to 1,700 seats before they can truly start celebrating a real revival of fortunes.

The Liberal Democrats, who have so far lost around 100 seats, have concealed those by taking Sheffield.

The capital of the "people's republic of South Yorkshire" has been Labour for decades.

Green success

There were also celebrations for the Green Party who secured a record number of councillors.

With results available from 280 councils, the Greens had won 21 seats, up 11, giving them a total of 39 councillors across the country.

Principal speaker Jean Lambert said: "This is clearly a very strong showing for the Greens, which has exceeded our expectations.

"We have won seats in areas from Northumberland and Lancaster to Taunton and Brighton by running strong campaigns on a full range of social and environmental issues."

The Greens won seats in Braintree in Essex, where they campaigned against plans for a new incineration plant. They also gained seats in Lancaster, where there was a campaign against greenfield housing.

Meanwhile, Labour has shrugged off the loss of around the councils which have changed out of its hands.

The party has been arguing for the last few weeks that the exceptional performance in 1995 would mean that up to 1,000 losses would be quite modest for a mid-term election.

Party officials have pointed at its control of authorities such as York and Trafford as its own success stories.

This election was always going to be read as a mid-term popularity contest for the government.

Supermarket sweep

If any of the parties had to go on the defensive, they could have all pointed to the low turn out.

Turn out for local elections is notoriously poor and at the beginning of the night some analysts were predicting it could have been the worst on record.

However, as the results rolled in, it was estimated that turn out in 1999 was around 29%, the same as in the previous year, albeit for far more seats.

Such a low turn out could in the future lead to polling in venues such as supermarkets and train stations or elections even being held on Sundays.

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