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Blair vows to reform Britain

Blair hugs wife Cherie as victory is confirmed  

LONDON, England -- Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared his landslide general election victory is a "mandate for reform" in Britain.

Speaking in Downing Street as he prepared to assemble his cabinet, he said: "It is a mandate for reform and investment in the future and it is also an instruction to deliver."

"I believe there is an even greater obligation on us and me to tell people what are the difficult choices and challenges we face."

He said the changes "would not be easy" but that Britain was "a special country with a special quality to face up and overcome the challenge of change".

Labour is expected to have a majority of between 160 and 170 in the House of Commons, the UK's main legislative body.

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).

With 634 of Parliament's 659 seats decided early on Friday afternoon, Labour was shown to have won 413 seats, the Conservatives 164 seats, and the Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party, 47 seats.

But the election is believed to have produced the lowest voter turnout since 1918.

Blair also paid tribute to the "extraordinary stoicism and resilience" of the opposition Conservative Party leader, William Hague.

Hague resigned on Friday as leader of his party after its resounding defeat at the polls.

He made the announcement after conceding defeat to Blair in a telephone call.

Addressing jubilant party workers in central London early on Friday morning, the prime minister said: "For 100 years we have been in government for short periods of time, but never won a full second successive term of office.

"Now we have done so because at long last in this country we have united the politics of ambition for yourselves and your family with compassion and decency and obligation for others less fortunate than yourself.

"That marriage of head and heart is what this party is about. So let us get to our work now."

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw told CNN: "This is an historic result for the Labour Party. 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."

The Liberal Democrats led by Charles Kennedy had one of their most successful elections, gaining seats from the Conservatives and holding others which had been targeted by Hague's party.

"It has been a fantastic victory. We have shown we are the party of the future. This decade can see us as part of the governments of our country," Kennedy said.

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

As he later resigned from the leadership of the party he has held for four years, Hague said: "We have not been able to persuade a majority, or anything approaching, a majority in the country that we are yet the alternative government that (Britain) needs.

"Nor have I been able to persuade sufficient numbers that I am their alternative prime minister. No man or woman is indispensable and no individual is more important than the party... I have therefore decided to step down as leader of the Conservative Party when a successor can be elected in the coming months."

Hague: "No individual is more important than the party"  

Lord Brittan, a former Tory Home Secretary, said he was not surprised at Mr Hague's resignation: "I know he is a man of strong personal judgment and determination.

"I think we have to respect that, even those of us who would have thought a longer period of reflection would be better to choose the right person to succeed him if he was going to go," he told BBC TV.

But former Labour leader Neil Kinnock said he was "amazed" by Mr Hague's decision.

"He is a young, fit man of obvious ability and I'm amazed that he didn't have the resolution, the fortitude, not the selfishness to say I will put myself forward, I invite a contest but I seek to continue to serve my party," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo is now among the favourites to succeed Hague.

Speaking before Hague's announcement, he 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."

Ex-Chancellor Kenneth Clarke and Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe are other potential candidates for the Conservative leadership.

Hague said the low turnout, which could be down by as much as 10 percent compared to the 1997 election, was a "sobering lesson for all parties."

Elections have also been held for 45 councils, 34 counties and 11 all-purpose unitary authorities in England and Wales.

• The Labour Party
• 10 Downing Street
• The Conservative Party
• The Liberal Democrat Party
• UK Government

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