LONDON -- Nationwide local election results yesterday scuttled the Conservative government's prospects of calling an early general election to give Prime Minister John Major his own popular mandate.
Both the major opposition Labor Party and the minority Liberal-Democrats scored successes at Conservative expense, leaving the government in a state of political shock.
Mr. Major admitted that the results were "quite disappointing," but he quickly added that, with the economy showing signs of recovery, there was "a great deal to look forward to."
In the first real test of his 6-month-old stewardship, the Conservatives lost almost 900 -- more than twice their own worst predictions -- of the 5,000 seats they controlled on local councils. They yielded control of more than 40 councils and gave Labor the opportunity to demand an immediate general election.
Labor leader Neil Kinnock said, "Mr. Major has built a reputation for dithering and delay. I don't want him to add to it by keeping Britain in suspense until 1992."
The government must call the next general election before June 1992. Yesterday's election results even threw into question whether the government would be in shape for elections by this fall.
Big winners yesterday were the minority Liberal-Democrats, who won more than 500 seats, enabling their leader, Paddy Ashdown, to look forward to being a potential future national power broker.