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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Tories gain 'election launchpad'
Conservative
The Tories say they have begun the long march back to power
The Conservatives say that local election gains are "building blocks" towards the party winning the next general election.

Co-chairman Liam Fox says the party is now "getting a grip" in the urban areas it will need to win back power.

The Conservatives have been forecast to take 38% of local election votes - with Labour pushed into third place.

Dr Fox said that Labour's defeat was "the worst performance by a governing party in electoral history".

The party's leader, Michael Howard, said: "We had excellent results last night. We are now represented up and down the country in the cities where we want to play an important part."

Urban comeback

With more than three-quarters of the results declared, the Tories have gained control of 12 councils - including two from Labour and one from the Liberal Democrats, with the remainder won from no overall control.

Liam Fox
It's good solid progress. We are back in the metropolitan areas in a way that we haven't been since the mid-1980s
Liam Fox, Conservative party co-chairman

Among the most significant results has been re-taking Trafford, one of their former strongholds in the north-west.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Dr Fox said the results showed the Conservatives were able to make gains outside of their own heartland areas.

"We've been suffering for a number of years from being a party of rural England and we wanted to make sure that we were back in the metropolitan areas," said Dr Fox.

Dr Fox pointed to gains in areas such as the north-east and north-west as evidence of success - as the Conservatives sought to be a "party for all of Britain".

'Solid progress'

The results gave the Conservatives their biggest lead over Labour since John Major won the 1992 general election, said Dr Fox.

But he downplayed any suggestion that the success could be directly translated into a winning position for the next general election.

KEY TORY WINS:
Brentwood
Dudley
Eastbourne
Monmouthshire
Peterborough
Rossendale
Swindon
Tamworth
Thurrock
Trafford
West Lindsey
Worthing

"I don't for a minute say that today's results would guarantee the Conservatives winning a general election - that would be absurd.

"But it's good solid progress. We are back in the metropolitan areas in a way that we haven't been since the mid-1980s," said Dr Fox.

Such gains as Trafford and Swindon were "essential building blocks" towards winning the next general election, he said.

But the BBC's projection that the results would give a 38% share of a national vote is the same as the party achieved four years ago, under William Hague - who went on to be heavily defeated in the next general election.




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