Labour avert ‘electoral disaster’

Labour claims it has avoided “electoral disaster”, despite losing seats across England, Scotland and Wales.

A significant swing to the SNP in Scotland could see the nationalists gain power, but with many seats yet to declare and scores of spoilt ballot papers, the result is still too close to call.

Labour remains the single largest party in Wales but, with 22 seats at present, will not be able to form a government without coalition support.

The party is also losing control of local government across England, but in key wards their vote is up slightly on average.

The Conservatives have gained 14 councils so far, but the result is far from an endorsement of David Cameron’s re-branded Conservatives.

SNP leader Alex Salmond declared a “wind of change” was blowing through the country, predicting Labour was on course to lose an election in Scotland for the first time “since 1995”.

However, Labour dismissed his comments as premature and point out the SNP gains are not as dramatic as Mr Salmond’s poll lead predicted prior to the election.

Mr Salmond rose from third place with a 20 per cent swing to win his seat in Gordon. The nationalists also took their first Glasgow constituency seats but failed to take other key targets.

However, the complicated voting system – with Scots voting for constituency, regional and local councils simultaneously using different voting systems – meant tens of thousands of votes have been rejected.

In many cases, the number of spoilt ballot papers exceeds the winning candidate’s majority.

Labour have slipped to just 26 seats so far in Wales, but remain the largest single party. Leader Rhodri Morgan was elected and reiterated his earlier pledge not to retire until 2011.

If he wishes to remain as first minister, Mr Morgan will spend the next few days negotiating a coalition government.

Plaid Cymru warned Mr Morgan not to attempt a minority administration. Leader Ieuan Wyn Jones told the BBC his party would not “prop up” a defeated Labour, nor would it enter into a coalition with Labour.

The Liberal Democrats gained an early boost in English local elections by taking Hull, but their overall vote appears to be down.

The Conservatives have taken Plymouth from Labour and Torbay from the Lib Dems, but Lost Eastbourne to the Lib Dems and missed out on target Bury.

Further results are expected throughout the day.