Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Labour Set to Retain Region's Power

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Labour Set to Retain Region's Power

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Linford

Tony Blair last night received a boost from voters in Labour's Northern heartlands as the party defied predictions of a collapse in support across the region.

As counting got under way in the local elections, Labour was on course to retain power in Sunderland and become the dominant party in Carlisle.

However Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was predicting "significant" gains for his party at Labour's expense.

It could mean an end to decades of Labour power in Newcastle when the votes there are counted this morning.

Last night's counting followed the "Super Thursday" poll for 166 councils, including seven in the North-East, along with the Euro-elections, which will be counted on Sunday.

Prime Minister Mr Blair has faced accusations that he "disappeared" during the campaign amid claims he had become an electoral liability.

Speaking in the US last night, he admitted that the issue of Iraq had overshadowed the campaign.

But early indications last night were that Labour's support had held up in the region, although the postal voting experiment appeared to have failed with overall turnout down 1.5pc.

The evening began with ugly scenes outside the

Crowtree Leisure Centre in Sunderland involving supporters of the far-right British National Party. But the BNP once again failed in its bid for a political breakthrough in the region, although it forced the Tories into third place in Sunderland's Castle ward.

Meanwhile Labour appeared on course to become the largest single party in Carlisle, dashing Tory hopes of taking control there.

With 12 results announced, Labour had picked up two seats from the Tories but lost one to the Lib Dems.

Houghton and Washington MP and Government whip Fraser Kemp said the early results were "great news for the Labour Party".

"It's quite early days, but on the basis of the results so far and what we've seen in Carlisle and other areas it's quite encouraging," he said.

According to last night's polls, Labour's Ken Livingstone remained on course for victory in the London Mayoral poll. …

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