FOUR years ago, when Labour swept to power, there was an amazing sense of elation, excitement and euphoria at Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre.

On Thursday night, with the eyes of the nation once again focused on the small County Durham town where the Prime Minister's vote was counted, there was more a sense of the inevitable.

As soon as the first exit polls predicted another Labour landslide it was all over bar the counting - and everybody knew it.

When the inevitable result was delivered shortly after 1.30am there was a polite but muted response.

Tony Blair summed it up well. "It is not the same judgement as it was four years ago, when it was euphoria at ending 18 years of Tory government. It is a more sober judgement tonight, and also a more reasoned one."

Tory candidate Douglas Carswell remained upbeat throughout as he had increased his party's 1997 vote.

Chris "Screwy" Driver, leader of the Rock 'n' Roll Loony Party said: "You haven't got this loony elected this time, but you have got another loony elected. I would like to congratulate Tony Blair."

Mr Blair then travelled the ten miles to his Sedgefield heartland and Trimdon Labour Club, where his supporters had spent the evening - again strangely muted - watching the results come in on the big screen.

When he arrived, they rose as one and, for a moment, it was that heady May night in 1997 all over again.

His agent ,John Burton, introduced him: "It is absolutely wonderful and it is a historic victory. We have won a second term not by 40 or 50 seats, but by a great majority and it is mainly the responsibility of our own local MP, someone we have loved for so many years, the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Surrounded by applauding fans, Mr Blair struck the pose of a rockstar, but when the hubbub subsided he spoke like a politician who knew, despite the landslide, the enormity of the job ahead.

Sometimes when he speaks at the club, people at the tables at his feet seem no more than working-class adornments for the TV cameras which carry his message to the world.

But this time, as he stood on the verge of history, he finished with a direct and personal address to his people.

"You, here, have been my absolute rock on which I have built everything I have achieved," he said. "I have learned so much from you.

"You are the people who taught me the politics that I now represent, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.