Opposition lawmaker ousts London mayor

( AP ) - An eccentric Conservative lawmaker appeared likely to become London's next mayor after an election that brought only gloom Friday for Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Labour Party.

Brown's first test at the polls Thursday brought Labour its worst local election results in four decades; his credibility has been dented by accusations of dithering and economic blunders since he became leader last June. The party lost more than 300 municipal council seats and the Conservatives made strong gains in its longtime weak spot in northern England.

In London, bookmakers and legislators alike predicted former magazine editor Boris Johnson would win for the Conservatives, defeating Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone, who became the city's first elected mayor in 2000.

The mayor of London is one of the nation's most high-profile posts - controlling a budget of billions and charged with planning for the 2012 Olympics.

"It looks like Boris Johnson is ahead," Olympics minister Tessa Jowell told the British Broadcasting Corp. "The people of London are telling us something - telling us their lives are very hard. They want us to take quick and clear notice of that."

Brown's poor showing seem certain to embolden critics within his Labour Party who fear the famously sullen ex-Treasury chief has little prospect of beating the Conservatives' charismatic leader, David Cameron, in a national election.

Cameron's Conservatives had champagne on ice, preparing to toast Johnson's predicted capture of London's City Hall.

Johnson, 43, a former magazine editor, is known for his wit and frequent television appearances. He also has offended minority communities with unguarded comments.

However, his clownish charm means most forgive his indiscretions and appears to have been the key to wresting control of City Hall from Livingstone.

"The ship of state is heading towards the rocks," crowed Tory lawmaker Eric Pickles, predicting Brown would now put off a national election until the latest possible date in mid-2010.

In last year's local elections, Labour lost control of Scotland's regional government.

"I think these results are not just a vote against Gordon Brown and his government," Cameron said. "I think they are a vote of positive confidence in the Conservative Party."

There was little Brown could do to put a positive spin on the losses. "It's clear to me that this has been a disappointing night, indeed a bad night for Labour," he told reporters.

Brown's electoral thrashing came as Tony Blair - his predecessor and longtime rival - reminded Britons of his polished statesmanlike credentials, leading talks on Palestinian aid and hosting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his London home.

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