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Britain's Ruling Party Suffers Defeat in Local Election

Britain's ruling Labor party appears set to suffer its worst defeat in 40 years in local elections against the opposition Conservative party. Preliminary results indicate Labor will receive about 24 percent of the vote, finishing third behind the opposition Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. Tom Rivers reports for VOA from London.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown admitted Friday his party took a beating in local elections, calling it a "bad night" of results.

Projections point to a large switch in local seats and councils from Labor to the main opposition party, the Conservatives and to a lesser degree to the Liberal Democrats.

The margin is similar to the one former Prime Minister John Major endured in 1995, two years before a Labor landslide removed him from office.

Deputy Labor leader Harriet Harman said the results were disappointing.

"We recognize the difficult economic context with people feeling the pinch," said Herman. "But I think that we are determined to listen and confident to take the country forward."

For the Conservatives, gaining control of at least eight government councils across the country is a sign of good things to come in the next general election. Conservative leader David Cameron says his job will be to keep the pressure on with new and better ideas and programs.

"I think this a very big moment for the Conservative party, but I do not want anyone to think that we would deserve to win an election just on the back of a failing government," said Cameron. "I want us to really prove to people that we can make the changes that they want to see in terms of schools and hospitals and crime and other issues that really matter to all of us."

Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg, whose party also gained seats at the expense of Labor, said he was delighted at the outcome of the election.

"We are regaining momentum," he said. "Politics is very much on the move again. There is everything up for grabs and I think we have shown in these results that we have confounded expectations."

Prime Minister Brown, looking dour amid his party's defeat, acknowledged that regaining lost ground ahead of the next general election in two years will not be easy, especially given the economic downturn the country is going through.

"The test of leadership is not what happens in a period of success, but what happens in difficult circumstances and the challenge of leadership is to take the country through difficult times as well as through good times," said Brown. "And the challenge is to show that we have the strength and resolution as well as the conviction and ideas to take the country forward and that is exactly what we are going to do."

Brown's reputation for economic competence has been questioned over the past year as the global downturn continues to be felt here. The British leader has repeatedly warned that more difficult economic times lie ahead.