Blair wins third term

TONY Blair today promised to govern "sensibly and wisely" after scores of Labour MPs lost their seats in a General Election which did not need to be called for another 13 months.

By Graham Dines

TONY Blair today promised to govern "sensibly and wisely" after scores of Labour MPs lost their seats in a General Election which did not need to be called for another 13 months.

Harwich, Braintree, Peterborough, Harlow and Hemel Hempstead all fell to the Tories as the East of England voted to give Mr Blair "a bloody nose."

Mr Blair told supporters in his Sedgefield constituency shortly after 3am that if the projections of the overall majority were right, the British people wanted to curb his command of the Commons.


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"I know Iraq has been a divisive issue in this country," said Mr Blair. "But I hope now we can unite again and look to the future.

"If the predictions are right, it looks as if the Labour Party is heading, for the first time in its history, for a historic third term. It's not yet clear, obviously, what the majority is.

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"But it seems as if it is clear that the British people wanted the return of a Labour Government, but with a reduced majority. We have to respond to that sensibly and wisely and responsibly."

Chancellor Gordon Brown, seen as the natural successor to Mr Blair when he steps down, said as his own result was announced: "I promise that we will listen and we will learn so that we can serve our country and our communities even better in the years to come."

Conservative gains were concentrated on London, Essex and Kent, while they picked up a clutch of seats including Newbury and Weston-super-Mare from the Liberal Democrats.

The Tories first gain of the night was in Putney and they later went to regain Enfield Southgate, famously seized by Labour's Stephen Twigg from Michael Portillo as Labour romped to a 1997 landslide.

The Tories 2001 candidate in Waveney Lee Scott won Ilford North.

The Lib Dems stunned Labour by picking up inner city seats in Cardiff, Manchester, and Leeds.

The party failed in its attempts to unseat three senior Tories - as ex-party chairman Theresa May increased her majority in Maidenhead and shadow home secretary David Davis retained Haltemprice and Howden and Oliver Letwin held Dorset West.

As the polls closed at 10pm, the BBC-ITV News exit poll predicted the state of the parties in the new parliament as Labour with 365 MPs, the Conservatives with 209 and the Liberal Democrats on 53 - majority 66.

Senior Labour figures hailed the fact that for the first time the party would enjoy three successive periods in office.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said: "We always want a good result. I always want to see a Labour Government and there is going to be a Labour Government, There is no doubt about that."

Labour's election co-ordinator Alan Milburn said: "There's a health warning on any exit poll, but if this exit poll is right, then Labour would have secured a third term in government for the first time in our party's history."

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon acknowledged Iraq had been an issue in the campaign, but insisted it was "nothing like" as significant as the economy and public services.

"I have not found people saying that Iraq is the most important issue as far as they are concerned. I have had some people who have raised it with me but not as a central decision-making factor in how they cast their vote."

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