THE ruling coalition in Blackburn with Darwen looks set to continue after a disastrous election for Labour.

Speaking after the four-hour count, party leaders indicated the partnership between the Tories, Liberal Democrat and For Darwen parties, set up a year ago, was likely to carry on.

But power-sharing talks are set to take place over the next few days and other permutations could emerge.

Labour lost four of its councillors, while For Darwen strengthened its hand by picking up three seats.

The Conservatives won a seat in Ewood, taking their total to 18, while the Lib Dems lost one key councillor but picked Bastwell from Labour to remain on 11.

A Labour and For Darwen alliance would have 32 seats - enough to take control with incoming mayor Mohammed Khan's casting vote.

Or the Lib Dem and Labour groups together would have a total of 38 councillors, although the Lib Dems are unlikely to split with the Tories as the two parties did not stand against each in Blackburn.

It is likely For Darwen leader Tony Melia will now demand a bigger role for his party on ruling executive board of the council.

After the count, he suggested a coalition would again be formed, adding: "We will be pretty much the same as before, only bigger."

Liberal Democrat leader David Foster was due to chair a party meeting last night to discuss the way forward.

He said: "There will be negotiations on the same basis as last year.

"It depends on whether For Darwen can be part of an effective team and it depends on their attitude."

Conservative leader Colin Rigby said he was "delighted" Labour had lost four seats, but was sorry to see Lib Dem Kevin Connor, the lead member for resources, lose his seat to Phil Jones of For Darwen.

He added: "Lots of good stuff has been done by this council in the past year."

Labour leader Kate Hollern, who remained tight-lipped on possible power-sharing arrangements, was left ruing national politics that she said had damaged the party's chances locally.

She said: "There has been an early warning here for Mr Brown and he will listen.

"That's what politics is all about. But I am very disappointed.

"We have lost some exceedingly good long-serving councillors."

There were emotional scenes as long-serving Labour member Florence Oldfield lost her seat in a nail-biting battle with the Conservatives' Joe Smith.

The former member for Ewood was embraced by supporters of all parties as it was announced she had lost by just three votes after three recounts.

Coun Smith said: "I am delighted, but I am just sorry it was Florence that had to go, because she gave a fine service to her ward."

Soon afterwards it was announced that Labour stalwart Dave Smith had lost his Sunnyhurst seat after 22 years, to 24-year-old For Darwen candidate Andrew Graham.

He said the row over changes to income tax was a factor in his defeat, and Blackburn MP Jack Straw admitted national headlines had been "mainly responsible" for his party's poor showing.

He admitted a "mistake" over the abolition of the 10p tax band, and said: "We all feel a strong sense of responsibility.

"But we have bad times as well as good, and locally the party is in good heart."