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This was not the disaster for Labour that many feared

The party has not suffered a 1983-style wipeout.

With 46 seats left to declare, the Conservatives have conceded that there is now no chance of David Cameron emerging with an overall majority from this election. At best, the Tories hope to win roughly 310 seats, leaving them 16 short of a majority.

Labour must now do all it can to win over the Lib Dems, most obviously by offering Nick Clegg's party a referendum on proportional representation. Its attempt to do so has been helped by the fact that its losses have been nowhere near as severe as some feared.

As things stand, Labour has 241 seats. That's more than the party won in 1983 and 1987 and significantly more than the Tories won in 1997, 2001 and 2005. The electoral wipeout that some feared did not come to pass.

Meanwhile, although big names such as Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty have fallen, not a single cabinet minister has lost his or her seat. Neither Alistair Darling nor Ed Balls provided the "Portillo moment" that so many hoped for.

Finally, after weeks of level-pegging with the Lib Dems in the opinion polls, Labour has reaffirmed its position as the dominant centre-left party. Clegg's claim that the election had turned into a "two-horse race" between the Tories and the Lib Dems now looks astonishingly hubristic.

The newly humbled Lib Dems may well be tempted to form a partnership of principle with Labour, rather than an alliance of convenience with the Tories. But Clegg's desire to avoid forming "an alliance of the defeated" is still likely to prove fatal for Brown.

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