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Last Updated: Friday, 5 May 2006, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Those little local difficulties
Local elections do more than decide who controls town halls - they give voters the chance to deliver a mid-term verdict on the national political scene. But are they a guide to future general election performance? Here are some of the biggest bruisings inflicted on governing parties in local elections:

1968

Labour's worst local election low point. The party lost all but four London boroughs, winning only 28.5% in the capital while the Conservatives got 60.1%. The results paved the way for Edward Heath to oust Harold Wilson from Downing Street two years later.

1977

Local election losses put the writing on the wall for James Callaghan two years before he lost power to Margaret Thatcher. Labour made net losses of 905 seats, with the Tories gaining 1,135.

1986

In the year which saw Michael Heseltine quit the Cabinet in the Westland affair, the Conservatives had a net loss of 687 seats. Some of the losses were seats won in 1982 amid the popularity of the Falklands War. The results did not stop Margaret Thatcher winning a third term in Downing Street the following year.

1990

Dismal local election results may have helped push Tory MPs into toppling Margaret Thatcher from power a few months later. The Tories made net losses of 163 seats in a year where the poll tax was right at the top of the political agenda.

1991

Thatcher's downfall failed to stem Tory troubles at the local council polls. With more than 10,000 seats up for grabs, the Tories made net losses of 861 seats, with the Lib Dems the biggest winners on election night. But only a year later, John Major won a majority in the general election.

1995

The nadir of the Conservatives' record in local government polls. The party suffered net losses of nearly 2,000 seats - the worst showing for a government in council elections. Two months later, John Major challenged his critics to "put up and shut up" and won the ensuing leadership election. More council losses followed in 1996 before Mr Major's landslide general election defeat the following year.

1999

Labour lost 967 seats as the Tories won back some of the traditional strongholds they had lost in their 1995 council meltdown. But Tony Blair's party held on to councils like York and Trafford, defying those who had predicted an absolute disaster for Labour.

2000

Voters showed disappointment with Labour three years after it came to power. The party lost 568 council seats when only 3,400 were being contested. Labour won only 29% of the vote, just one point ahead of the Lib Dems and behind the Tories' 38%. There was no repeat in 2001, when William Hague endured landslide defeat at the general election.

2002

Labour avoided a mid-term calamity, although it made net losses of 339 seats. The Conservatives made some gains in Iain Duncan Smith's first electoral test as leader, including bright spots in London, but there was no great breakthrough.

2003

Perhaps a prime example of how the local elections are not necessarily a good guide for national politics. Iain Duncan Smith defied his critics - including a frontbencher who resigned as the polls closed - and gained more than 560 seats. Labour suffered from the impact of the Iraq war, losing 812 seats and control of councils like Coventry, which it had held for 25 years. But by the end of the year it was Mr Duncan Smith who was forced out as leader.

2004

Labour suffered another "Baghdad trounce" as it was pushed into a historically low third place. It lost 8 councils including heartland bastions such as Newcastle, Leeds, Doncaster and Bassetlaw. The next year Tony Blair became the first Labour leader to win a third successive term in government.





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