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Blair storms to UK poll triumph

Blair hugs wife Cherie as victory is confirmed  

LONDON, England -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has won an historic second landslide election victory.

Blair's Labour Party passed the 330 House of Commons seats it needed to form another government shortly before 3 am local time (0200 GMT) on Friday morning.

Conservative Party leader William Hague formally conceded defeat in his Richmond constituency in northern England at 4.25 a.m. local time (0325 GMT).

"The results tonight across the country are deeply disappointing for my party and I feel for the candidates and the activists and supporters in other constituencies who have worked so hard for so little reward," he said.

"The Labour Party will continue to form the government and I congratulate them on their victory and have already spoken to Mr Blair to congratulate him in person."

Despite a low turnout -- possible the lowest since 1918 -- Blair said the British people "agree with the direction in which we take this country but they want us to get on with the journey and live up to the expectations invested in us."

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw told CNN: "This is an historic result for the Labour Party. It is the first time we have gained a second full term.

"It is a positive endorsement of Tony Blair's strategy to run a strong economy and invest in public services and reject's today's Conservative Party."

Blair is heading back to London from his Sedgefield constituency in north east England and is expected to announce a major reshuffle of his Cabinet later on Friday.

The result, which Blair hailed as "extraordinary," is a serious blow for the Conservatives and will raise questions about Hague's future.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo -- one of several high-profile Conservatives tipped as potential leadership contenders -- warned against any "precipitate action" after the scale of the defeat became clear.

Having successfully retained his Kensington and Chelsea seat in London, Portillo said: "This has been another very disappointing night. It should lead to a period of reflection.

"I hope no-one will say anything hasty in the coming hours and days that any of us might wish to regret thereafter."

Blair, speaking as he was comfortably re-elected to his Sedgefield seat, in north east England, said: "I would like to thank the British people.

"There is no greater honour than to serve you as Prime Minister and you have given us tonight a historic moment for the Labour Party.

"That is an extraordinary thing -- it's what we have always worked for. We have worked for it not simply to be in office itself, but because we always knew that to complete the work we began it would take more than one term of office to do so."

Speaking before his victory was confirmed, he added: "If we are, as I hope, re-elected and re-elected well, then I think there is a reason, a profound reason, why people have chosen once again this government and this Labour Party.

"It is because we had the courage to change ourselves, to offer a different political choice to people.

"To say to the people 'you can have a political party that will run the economy well, work with business, but still pursue the goals of social justice and opportunity for all.'

"We can have a politics in which head and heart are married together and in which ambition and compassion lie easily with one another."

Hague, who was also comfortably re-elected to his seat, commented on the low turnout, with some estimates putting the number of people voting as the lowest since 1918.

Within two hours of the polls closing, it appeared that the turnout compared with 1997 -- which had the lowest turnout since World War II -- was down by around 10 percent.

Hague said: "It must be a sobering lesson for all parties that millions of people have been reluctant or have refused to participate in this election at all and there will be much to reflect on for the Conservative Party."

Projections from a MORI exit poll for ITN and early results forecast Blair would have a majority of 173 in the House of Commons, the UK's main legislative body. A BBC/NOP survey predicted a Labour majority of at least 160.

Hague will announce plans for the future later on Friday  

On the BBC, the prediction was that Labour had taken 44 percent of the vote, Conservatives 32 percent and Liberal Democrats 17 percent.

The Liberal Democrats led by Charles Kennedy were having one of their most successful elections.

The scale of the Labour victory is a huge snub for the Conservative Party's tactics in the election campaign.

The party was accused by Labour of running a one-issue campaign based on the European currency and highlighted by Hague's oft repeated 'Save The Pound' slogan.

Hague said he would set out his views later on Friday on the process his party would be following to provide an effective opposition.

While commentators speculated that he may step down, potential stalkers for leadership of the Conservatives expressed their support for Hague.

Ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke, said: "William will carry on in his job is my personal prediction. But I don't think it's sensible at all to talk about these things."

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, praised Hague. She said: "As far as I'm concerned, William has been an excellent leader. He's a staying leader."

There was support too from former Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit, who urged Hague to stay on.

"I certainly don't think that he should walk away from it either now or tomorrow morning," he said. "The whole party needs to sit down and think about the election, think about the next election too.

"There's a very good chance the party will decide they would rather like to keep William."

Elections are also taking place for 45 councils, 34 counties and 11 all-purpose unitary authorities in England and Wales.

• The Labour Party
• The Conservative Party
• The Liberal Democrat Party

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