Labour has made significant gains in Britain's local elections. The party outperformed expectations and the results have strengthened Ed Miliband's position as leader.
The outcome of Thursday's voting also raised the tantalising prospect among Labour activists that the next general election could be won.
The party made inroads in the Conservative heartlands of southern England, while cementing gains in the northern cities that the Tories need to win if they are to achieve an overall majority at the next election.
With just one authority left to declare last night, Labour had won control of 32 councils and racked up a total of 823 new councillors. Before the elections, most independent experts had predicted that the party would win at most 700 seats.
It needed just four gains to take control of Birmingham City Council, but claimed half of the 40 seats being contested, including some in areas that had been expected to stay Tory.
It also made significant gains in the south of England, winning control of Southampton, Great Yarmouth, Norwich and Plymouth councils.
Labour won in the Essex bellwether seats of Thurrock and Harlow -- suggesting that working-class southern voters may be finally returning to it.
In the North, Labour gained control of councils in Burnley, Chorley and Rossendale -- all areas where the Tories need to do well at the general election if they are to have any hope of becoming the sole party of government. Labour also won control of Cardiff.
In Scotland, the party prevented the Scottish National Party taking control of Glasgow City Council.
The one blemish was in Bradford, where George Galloway's Respect unseated the Labour leader and took five seats.
In Birmingham, Mr Miliband, flanked by jubilant supporters, said the party was determined to "repay that trust" of the electorate. "The most important thing is not to think about politicians, but to think about people," he said.
Mr Miliband will be watching tomorrow's presidential election result in France carefully.
If, as expected, Francois Hollande wins, Labour will hope the message that Britain needs an alternative to austerity will gain increasing traction with voters.
It will also serve to highlight that a leader, widely regarded as uncharismatic, can still be elected if policies are in tune with the public mood.
The shadow chancellor Ed Balls struck a cautious note when he suggested the party still had much to do to regain the trust of the voters. But privately Labour sources were jubilant.
(© Independent News Service)