by RAY FLEMING “THE Conservatives gave Tony Blair a bloody nose but not a knock out blow” was the perceptive comment of Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, on the result of the local elections in England. David Cameron probably agreed with that assessment; he set the right tone in interviews by avoiding euphoria, even over the excellent outcome in London, and acknowledging that much remained to be done, especially in the big cities of the North of England where Conservative councillors remain almost invisible. It is always difficult to extrapolate local election results into general election forecasts.
For one thing, outside London, Thursday's voting took place in only about one-third of the councils in the country and also, as always, turnout was much lower than in general elections.

ALTHOUGH Labour lost rather more seats than they hoped to, it was far from a meltdown, and the Conservatives' gains were probably at the low end of their expectations. It must be a long time since a government went into an election of any kind with so many serious problems dominating the media headlines as Labour did on Thursday. Against that background the outcome was not wholly negative; it certainly could have been a lot worse.
Everything now depends on whether Mr Blair can really drive his planned reforms through in education and the NHS and prove that they really are making a difference in peoples' lives. Even if he stays until the last minute of his term of office he has very little time to achieve his ambitions.