UK Politics

Vote 2011: Labour 'on way back', says Miliband

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Media captionEd Miliband: 'Voters gave a clear message to the government that it needs to change direction'

Labour leader Ed Miliband has said Labour is "on its way back" after winning 14 councils in English local elections so far and almost gaining overall control in the Welsh Assembly.

Among its gains, the party took Gravesham from the Conservatives, and Sheffield from the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Miliband said: "So, south, north, east and west, Labour is coming back."

But in Scotland, Labour lost 10 seats as the SNP surged to an historic victory.

Mr Miliband said Labour was pleased with its English and Welsh results, but had "further to go as a party", with the victories being a "symbol of our task ahead".

With results declared in about a third of national and local elections across the UK, the Liberal Democrats appear to have been punished by voters, recording their lowest share of the vote in almost 30 years.

Mr Miliband called on the coalition government to take note that voters wanted a change.

"I think the results we've seen in English local government - up and down this country - are sending a clear message to this government, and the Liberal Democrats in particular, that there needs to be a change of direction on some of the key issues: on living standards; on the NHS; on tuition fees and on going too far too fast on the deficit.

"I hope the government takes heed of that."

He said the results show "that Labour is on its way back, starting that journey of rebuilding trust."

He described the loss of Liberal Democrat support as voters withdrawing permission for the Lib Dems "to back Tory policies".

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said that the Conservatives had shown "ruthless skill" in manoeuvring their coalition partner "into the firing line".

On Labour's future, Mr Miliband said: "I am determined that we will be the people's voice in every part of Britain. Our victory here is both a sign of our progress and a symbol of our task ahead."

The Scotland result for Labour - a loss of 10 seats so far - is disappointing for Labour.

The SNP have won 55 seats (up 23), Labour 26 (down 10), Conservatives nine (down four), Lib Dems three (down 10) and Greens one.

Among the losses were nine Labour MSPs, including former ministers, who had held constituency seats since 1999.

"We will have to learn our own lessons from what the public is saying to us there," Mr Miliband said.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was "too early" for a full analysis of the Scotland result but added: "I make no bones about it, it has been a disappointing night."

But she said it was a "very different" story in England and Wales, where the party deserved credit for being a voice for people "in these tough times".

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said "it was a bad result [in Scotland] for Labour last night".

He added protest votes from the Lib Dems had gone to the SNP rather than Labour.

Welsh success

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Labour leader should be doing much better if he hoped to regain power, while Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the results were not as good for Labour as the party was implying.

"The early results suggest things are going much less well for Labour than they had predicted, and much less badly for us than frankly most people had predicted," Mr Hammond said.

"We are a government in office taking some very difficult decisions, campaigning off a historic high-water mark in terms of councillors and councils controlled, and I think we were braced for some significant losses which so far don't seem to be materialising."

In Wales, Labour won 30 seats, but appeared unlikely to gain the 31 needed for an overall majority.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said: "We've fought a campaign that said Labour stands for your voice in tough times, when there are cuts happening far too fast and far too deep and too far in Westminster, that are impacting in a terrible way on Wales.

"People wanted Labour to lead and protect them and to protest against these policies and that is the result we've had.

"I think it's going to set us well on the way to doing much better in the future, not just here in Wales but right across Britain."