Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 14:48 UK

Analysis: Testing times for Brown

Gordon Brown pictured as he meets Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Downing Street
Gordon Brown manages a smile in Number 10 despite the results


By Carole Walker
Political correspondent, BBC News

"Gordon shouldn't smile - it looks unnatural" was the advice from one former minister last week.

Surely the prime minister must have realised that his attempt to do so, when he spoke to us in Downing Street on Friday morning, was even less convincing than usual.

Less than a year after taking office, Gordon Brown has delivered Labour's worst election result for 40 years. His party's core supporters either stayed at home or voted for the opposition.

The Conservatives have notched up the sort of support Labour enjoyed two years before Tony Blair swept to power.

Gordon Brown's inner circle are looking at reports of a massive turnout in the London suburbs and bracing themselves for the hammer blow of a Boris Johnson victory on Friday evening.

Brown blamed

The prime minister said he would learn lessons, reflect and move forward, but it is difficult to see how he is going to regain that forward momentum.

He says the difficult economic circumstances are partly to blame. But as the man who has been in charge of the economy for ten years, the voters appear to be blaming him.

Next month's draft Queen's speech will be an opportunity to set out fresh policies to reform public services, welfare and the constitution. But the tight financial situation will limit his scope to deliver anything that will make much difference to all those feeling the squeeze.

The Prime Minister told us the real test of leadership is how you cope in difficult circumstances. He is certainly being tested now

Of course local elections are not the same as general elections. People do feel a greater liberty to register a protest vote and some parts of the country have not gone to the polls this time.

Yet more than 100 Labour MPs will now be worrying about their chances of keeping their seats at the next election.

There is no sign of any organised attempt to move against the leader who was given such overwhelming support by his party when Tony Blair stood down. There is no obvious candidate prepared to put up a serious challenge at the moment.

With two years to go before the next election, Gordon Brown does have time to turn around his party's fortunes. But some are now wondering whether he is personally capable of the sort of change that is needed.

But senior Labour MP Ian Gibson's warning that Mr Brown has six months to turn things around or face an angry backlash is an indication of the growing frustration amongst Labour MPs.

If the party's position has not improved by the time of the autumn party conference, there would be real pressure for someone to challenge his leadership.

David Cameron is right to suppress the glee that he is clearly feeling.

Volatile electorate

The results do suggest he could be heading for victory at the next general election, but the Tory leader is correct when he says his party cannot afford to hope that Labour's failings will be enough.

The electorate is highly volatile and Labour is right to claim that Conservative policies will now come under greater scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has won himself some breathing space. His campaign strategists did an excellent job in lowering expectations.

The mixed bag of some losses, but modest gains, allowed Mr Clegg to declare he had confounded expectations. His party at least seems to have exhausted the habit of ditching its leader when the going gets tough.

For Gordon Brown the picture appears to be getting grimmer by the hour. Losing control in Reading leaves Labour with hardly a council in the south-east of England, whilst the Tories have at least gained a foothold in the north.

The prime minister told us the real test of leadership is how you cope in difficult circumstances. He is certainly being tested now.





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THE ELECTION RESULTS
COUNCIL RESULTS
  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
CON 257 3155 12 65
LAB -334 2365 -9 18
LD 33 1804 1 12
PC 31 205 -1 0
OTH 10 898 0 0
NOC - - -3 64
159 of 159 councils declared.

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Results in more detail

London Mayoral results
Overall results
Name Party Votes
Johnson CON 1,168,738
Livingstone LAB 1,028,966
Paddick LD 878,097
Berry GRN 409,101

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Results in more detail

London Assembly Results
Overall results
Party Constit' Top-up Total seats
CON 8 3 11
LAB 6 2 8
LD 0 3 3
GRN 0 2 2
BNP 0 1 1

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Results in more detail


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