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banner Friday, 5 May, 2000, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Blair's black Friday

Voters have given their verdict on Labour's three-year rule
By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder

Tony Blair has suffered a hat trick of election disasters with major setbacks in London, English town halls and the Romsey by-election.

His Black Friday saw Labour shedding hundreds of local council seats, its candidate losing his deposit in Romsey and, most symbolic of all, "Red" Ken Livingstone confirmed as London mayor.

The results represent the greatest electoral setback for the prime minister since he was swept to power on the 1997 election landslide.

He was bracing himself for bad news - and he got it as voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the government just three years after its historic victory.

The prime minister has been beset by problems over issues like the future of Rover, the strength of sterling and policies on the health service, education, asylum seekers and law and order.

And the poll results are a classic mid-term reaction to a government that has finally entered seriously choppy water.

The consequences will be far reaching and could even see Mr Blair delaying the next general election, widely expected in a year's time, in order to regain some ground.

Sensational victory

The day brought good news for the Tories who picked up almost 600 local council seats - far more than expected and enough for William Hague to declare that the party revival has started.

But some of the shine was taken off the results by a sensational victory for the Liberal Democrats in the Romsey by-election - seen as a safe Tory seat.

Lib Dem candidate Sandra Gidley snatched the seat away from the Tories with a 3,000 majority in a result which saw the Labour vote collapse.

But it was the London mayor result which overshadowed all the other polls as Mr Livingstone stormed to victory, leaving Labour's Frank Dobson trailing badly in third place.

The next few days will see Mr Livingstone putting together his team, presiding over the first meeting of the new assembly and taking key decisions on policies such as the future of the London tube.

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