LABOUR lost overall control of Blackburn with Darwen Council for the first time in 19 years - signalling a frantic scramble for power involving four parties.

A number of key losses left the party with just 31 seats, down from 33.

And a massive protest vote for the newly-created For Darwen party in Darwen was largely behind Labour's loss of control.

Labour may now rely on the For Darwen Party's three councillors to maintain control, but that may mean major concessions to a party formed out of Darwen people's dissatisfaction with the council's performance in the town.

For Darwen leader, former LibDem Tony Melia, could also be courted by the 17 Tories and 14 Lib Dems to oust Labour completely.

Coun Kate Hollern, council leader until last night, regained her seat in Wensley Fold with a 732-vote majority over Liberal Democrat Tariq Mahmood.

Coun Hollern said it was too early to start talking about deals as she tried to come to terms with the loss of overall control in Blackburn with Darwen.

For Darwen party, created only six weeks ago, took two of the four seats it contested and holds the balance of power with a total of three.

Labour now has 31 seats, down two. The Tories increased their share to 17. The Liberal Democrats remained on 13.

It is unclear what will happen, but two scenarios seem possible.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and For Darwen could join but that seems unlikely, given that coalition talks between Tories and LibDems broke down when the resignation of six Labour councillors threw the council into turmoil in 2004.

Labour might be able persuade For Darwen to go with them, but would have to give them concessions as For Darwen were elected on an anti-Labour platform.

Coun Hollern said: "We are still by far the biggest party which sends a clear message that people want us to stay in control.

"I will be sitting down with my group tomorrow to see what the way forward is. It is too early to talk about deals."

Darwen people have long complained of being treated as the poor relation since Blackburn Council merged with Darwen's rural council in 1974.

But For Darwen leader Coun Tony Melia, recognising his chance to gain a share of power, said: "We are willing to talk to anyone to get the best for the people of Darwen."

Coun David Foster, leader of the LibDems, said: "I presume Labour will try to form an administration, I do not know whether they will approach other parties."

He said he was willing to talk to most parties.

MP Jack Straw said: "The joker in the pack was the For Darwen party, but Labour are still the largest group on the council."