LABOUR took a beating from the electorate in Thursday's local elections but it remains to be discovered whether those critical or absent Labour supporters who wielded the stick did so in sorrow or anger. David Cameron made an extremely important point yesterday morning when he expressed satisfaction with the results but then added that the Conservatives must strengthen their policies across the board because “We don't want to win the general election on the back of a failing government” -- recognising, I think, that in eighteen or twenty months from now the contest could be very much tougher than it was on Thursday and that, anyway, local elections in England and Wales are not always harbingers of results on a national scale. For the Conservatives the result showed that after a decade of change and disappointment they now have a leader of established stature. For Labour the local elections have played the important role of alerting the whole party to the fact that its traditional support cannot be taken for granted and that going beyond three terms of office is a huge mountain to climb especially in the difficult economic climate existing today. Gordon Brown is following Anthony Eden, Douglas Home, Jim Callaghan and John Major as the recipient of a poisoned chalice from an immensely successful predecessor. The task facing him now is to prove that he is the exception to the rule established by their fate.