By David Clarke A SHOCK loss for Tony Blair's Labour Party in a Scottish vote threatens to overshadow a party conference and hit morale before May's local elections, where a poor showing could hasten the prime minister's exit. In a huge 16 percent swing, voters ousted Labour from the east Scottish constituency of Dunfermline and West Fife and handed the parliamentary seat to the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third biggest party. The drubbing comes at a very difficult time for Blair who is fighting a rebellion from party members opposed to his planned public sector reforms, especially for schools. The result was also a blow for Finance Minister Gordon Brown, credited with deft management of the country's economy since 1997 when Labour took power and widely expected to take over from Blair before the next election, due by 2010. Brown lives in the constituency and fought hard in the campaign. “It was a very bad result for us, let's make no bones about it,” cabinet minister Alistair Darling told BBC radio. “This was a safe seat, we should not have lost it.” Blair, who has said he will not fight another election, has been weakened by three parliamentary defeats since November. His parliamentary majority was more than halved in last May's national election and he is seen by some as a lame duck. Although Darling tried to blame local issues for the vote, analysts say the result could signal the start of an erosion of Labour's local power base which may hurt its national standing. Analysts said the Dunfermline result was especially worrying for Labour because it was a further sign the Liberal Democrats could profit from dissatisfaction with the government in areas where they were in second place to Blair's party. “The thing that would make me say this is more than something you can dismiss as exceptional local circumstances is that it fits a new bigger pattern,” said John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Scotland. “The question was could the Liberal Democrats turn newly acquired second places to challenge the Labour party,” said Curtice. “And the answer to that is Yes.” The Liberal Democrats overcame weeks of bad headlines and scandals which have sparked a leadership contest to take the seat, left vacant by the death of a Labour lawmaker. Blair will later seek to soothe the party faithful at Labour's annual spring gathering, this year in Blackpool. He will need grassroots support in the next few months. “It's not good news. It's bad news, whichever way you look at it,” said a Labour member of a local authority in northern England. A weak showing in May's local elections coupled with more parliamentary defeats, especially on flagship policies such as reforms to schools and welfare benefits, could spark calls from within the party for him to go sooner rather than later. Most commentators think he intends to stay until next year, by which time he will have been prime minister for a decade. One comfort for Labour may be that a reinvigorated opposition Conservative Party under new leader David Cameron, who campaigned in the Scottish constituency, also saw its share of the vote fall.