Tony Blair's Labour Party takes pounding in elections

British voters pounded Tony Blair's Labour Party in local election results tallied Friday, inflicting losses that could further weaken the prime minister's authority.

The vote Thursday was widely seen as a referendum on Blair's troubled government. One Cabinet minister said he expected Blair to reshuffle his government team within hours.

Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron was a winner as the party made strong gains in his first electoral test since taking charge in December.

Labour took 731 seats in early counting, down 183 seats compared to the results of the last election, while the Conservatives won 1,140 seats, a gain of 184. Labour lost control of 11 local councils and the Tories gained six.

The far-right British National Party won 12 seats.

Voters choose representatives to fill 4,360 seats in 176 local authorities across England, a little less than half of all English councils. London was the biggest battleground, with elections in all 32 boroughs.

Labour's poor showing is likely to create more problems for the beleaguered Blair and could embolden those calling for him to step down soon or at least offer a timeline as to when he may leave office. His government has been battered by a slew of scandals in recent months.

Geoff Hoon, the leader of the House of Commons, told British Broadcasting Corp. television "There is going to be a (Cabinet) reshuffle, I am sure," adding that he expected to go to Blair's 10 Downing St. office early Friday.

Blair's office declined to comment.

It's unclear whether a reshuffle will be enough to solve the government's problems.

Conservative chairman Francis Maude said his party's strong showing showed its new leader's message was resonating with voters. Cameron had sought to prove his overhaul of the party's image was the right strategy.

Anthony Seldon, who has written a biography of the prime minister, said Labour's response to the results would be crucial in determining the election's impact.

"Will there be open challenges to (Blair's) authority? Will there be demands that he set a date (to step down)?" he said.

Seldon said such calls, along with the poor election outcome, would only make Blair more determined to stay.

"He wants to go when the party has done well in elections, he's absolutely not going to go unless he's dragged," he said.

Blair's name wasn't on the ballot, but for many he and his scandal-stained government were the biggest issue in the election.

"I think he's failed abominably, he's a walking disaster," said Ken Whitehead, 60, a retired airline pilot in the west London district of Ealing, considered a national bellwether, reports the AP.

I.L.

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