UK’s ruling Conservatives brace for more losses in local elections

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UK’s ruling Conservatives brace for more losses in local elections

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looks on as he inspects the Passing Out Parade of the Parachute Regiment recruits during a visit at the Helles Barracks at the Catterick Garrison, a military base in North Yorkshire, on May 3, 2024. ― AFP pic

LONDON, May 4 ― Britain’s ruling Conservatives braced today for further losses in local elections, their worst results in recent memory and a key test before a general election to be held by January.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s party lost nearly 500 councillors and control of 12 councils as well as a parliamentary seat, after voting Thursday across a swathe of England saw the Labour opposition make huge gains.

The beleaguered Tory leader faces more likely defeats when results of crunch mayoral races ― in London, Liverpool and Manchester ― are announced today, but is hoping to retain the West Midlands.

In a rare success yesterday, a Tory mayor won a third term in Tees Valley, northeast England ― albeit with a vastly reduced majority ― providing Sunak with some respite.

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Labour, out of power since 2010 and trounced by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives at the last general election in 2019, seized on its claim to the Blackpool South seat in parliament and other successes to demand a national vote.

“Lets turn the page on decline,” Labour leader Keith Starmer told supporters today in the East Midlands, where the party won the mayoral race.

Sunak must order a general election be held by January 28 next year at the latest, and has said he is planning on a poll in the second half of 2024.

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Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, Sunak conceded the returns showed “voters are frustrated” but insisted “Labour is not winning in places they admit they need for a majority”.

“We Conservatives have everything to fight for,” Sunak concluded.

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer embraces new East Midlands Mayor Claire Ward during a post local election rally in Mansfield, central England on May 5, 2024. ― AFP pic

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer embraces new East Midlands Mayor Claire Ward during a post local election rally in Mansfield, central England on May 5, 2024. ― AFP pic

‘Impetus’

Labour has enjoyed double-digit poll leads for all of Sunak’s 18 months in charge, as previous scandals, a cost-of-living crisis and various other issues dent the Tories’ standing.

On Thursday, they were defending nearly 1,000 council seats, many secured in 2021 when they led nationwide polls before the implosion of Johnson’s premiership and his successor Liz Truss’s disastrous 49-day tenure.

With almost all those results in by this morning, they had lost close to half.

If replicated in a nationwide contest, the initial tallies suggested Labour would win 34 per cent of the vote, with the Tories trailing by nine points, according to the BBC.

Sky News’ projection for a general election using the results predicted Labour will be the largest party but short of an overall majority.

Its by-election scalp in Blackpool ― on a mammoth 26-percent swing ― was the Conservatives’ 11th such loss in this parliament, the most by any government since the late 1960s.

Speculation has been rife in Westminster that restive Tory lawmakers could use the dire local election results to try to replace him. But that prospect seems to have failed to materialise.

However, it was not all good news for Labour.

The party lost control of one local authority, and suffered some councillor losses to independents elsewhere, due to what analysts said was its stance on the Israel-Hamas war.

Polling expert John Curtice assessed there were ominous signs for the opposition.

“These were more elections in which the impetus to defeat the Conservatives was greater than the level of enthusiasm for Labour,” he noted in the i newspaper.

“Electorally, it is still far from clear that Sir Keir Starmer is the heir to (Tony) Blair.” ― AFP

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