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Johnson shows early lead in capital

As counting got under way in London, Conservative Boris Johnson was establishing the kind of lead on Friday morning which could see him returned to City Hall for a second term as mayor ahead of Labour rival Ken Livingstone.

Election organiser London Elects was not releasing precise figures for ballot papers counted, but graphs on its website showed a clear early advantage for Mr Johnson in first-preference votes - though almost certainly not enough to take him over the 50% threshold needed to avoid a second-round run-off against Mr Livingstone.

Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick was trailing well behind the two front-runners, apparently locked in a battle for third, fourth and fifth places with Green Jenny Jones and independent Siobhan Benita.

There were also question marks over Labour's hopes of significant gains on the London Assembly, with the party running virtually neck-and-neck with Tories in the London-wide seats elected on a list basis. Liberal Democrats were behind Greens in the London-wide part of the poll, which they relied on for all their Assembly seats in 2008.

Victory in the London mayoral election is Prime Minister David Cameron's last hope for a silver lining after a grim night in nationwide council polls, which saw Tories lose control of 11 local authorities and almost 300 councillors.

Labour will be hoping that Mr Livingstone's fortunes will pick up as counting starts in some of the central London strongholds where he has most support.

By 10am, the running totals displayed on the London Elects website did not include any votes from areas such as Brent, Camden and Haringey where the Labour contender hopes to perform well, while more than a fifth of ballot papers had been counted in traditionally Tory areas such as Bromley and Wandsworth.