UK PM braces for bruising local elections 

May 6, 2022 - 17:51

Vote counting is about to end in the United Kingdom’s local elections with early results shedding an interesting insight about the political future of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and how his closest opposition party leader Keir Starmer will fare in the upcoming race for Downing Street.  

This is the first nationwide poll since the Premier’s “Partygate” scandal and is being widely seen as a test of whether Johnson has become an electoral liability for the conservative party.

Thousands of local seats had been up for grabs across England, Scotland, and Wales while mayoral elections and Northern Ireland assembly votes took place as well. 

That’s more than 6,800 council seats, with every council seat in Wales, and Scotland as well as thousands more across England and all the seats in the capital London, where the ruling Tories suffered significant losses. 

Also grabbing headlines in these elections is Northern Ireland where voters are electing all 90 members of the national assembly; with exit polls suggesting the nationalist Sinn Fein (once the political wing for the militant group, the Irish Republican Army, the IRA) will be the largest party for the first time in history.

If Sinn Fein does emerge victorious, it is expected to put forth a vote on reunification of Northern Ireland with Ireland, which would be another major headache for London and could see Britain shrink in territory. 

Decades of fighting between the IRA and the British army along with violence did not achieve that goal but these elections could pave the way for that possibility. 

Experts had previously said if the ruling conservatives lose more than 350 seats it would indicate the party found itself facing a very tricky test to retain power in the upcoming general elections.

Early election results show Johnson's Conservatives suffering losses in the ballots with scores of council seats lost.

Prior to the elections, an increasing number of reports had emerged of conservative candidates, fearing they would lose their seats, doing their utmost to distance themselves from the Prime Minister; a sign of just how much damage Johnson has inflicted on the ruling party. 

The Prime Minister broke his own coronavirus lockdown laws to attend parties and gatherings in his Downing Street office at a time when households across the country faced severe restrictions and financial punishments with regards to their movement, social contacts, and other restrictive rules the government imposed. 

The former Tory minister Nick Boles, who once served as Johnson’s chief of staff when the UK PM was serving as the mayor of London, declared he was voting Labour, while Johnson’s former highest-ranking advisor in his prime ministerial role, Dominic Cummings, repeated his calls on polling day for “regime change”.

In 2019, Johnson turned conventional British politics upside down by winning in both the traditional Conservative southern heartlands and more industrial areas in central and northern England. 

The results this time around appear to be much more mixed and will not be to the UK Premier’s liking. 

One of the constituencies that has been under a lot of attention among the British public is the London borough of Wandsworth which has been under conservative party hands for 44 years. 

Exit polls show Wandsworth has now been won by Labour, for the first time since 1974. Ravi Govindia, the local Conservative leader, believes voters had punished the party because of a cost-of-living crisis.

He blames his defeat on "a perfect storm of the cost of living crisis, 12 years of a Conservative government and redrawn boundaries".

"This is a warning shot from Conservative supporters - a fair number just stayed at home." 

He also notes that he doesn't believe there has been "a huge conversion" to the Labour party.

The Conservative leader of the nearby Barnet Council Daniel Thomas acknowledged his party has also lost control of the constituency. Another historic defeat for the conservatives has also been announced in Westminster showing the Tories have lost their political muscle in the British capital with three major wins for the Labour opposition.

That’s not to say Labour has done specularly well outside London as results slowly trickle in, the Lib Dems and the Greens have also managed to cause upsets across the country. 

Analysts say the early exit polls show good results for Labour leader Starmer but not the kind of results that indicate a Labour majority at the next general election. However, Labour does not have to win a majority for Starmer to be Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, as one conservative MP Stephen Hammond acknowledged; the “Partygate” scandal was a big influence on voting and that his local area in Wimbledon (London) saw a high turnout as "angry Tories" voted against his party.

"That ought to be a clarion bell ringing in Downing Street to make sure we are concentrating on the cost of living" he warned.

The Conservative Party co-chairman has also admitted “we have had some difficult election results.”

Scotland and Wales are yet to start declaring results but Johnson’s support has waned and the Prime Minister looks to be in trouble as the government grapples with a cost-of-living crisis and revelations about his conduct. 

According to one YouGov poll, after Johnson was fined by the police, almost 80-percent thought he had lied about parties, while other surveys have shown the British public overwhelmingly think he should resign.

Now many Conservative members of parliament are mulling whether Johnson is an electoral liability, and a poor showing in the local elections for the conservatives may trigger a Tory leadership challenge.

After the polls had closed, the Liberal Democrats party leader Ed Davey, said: “I am optimistic that thanks to their hard work, the Liberal Democrats will gain ground in areas across the blue wall where voters are fed up of being taken for granted.”

“After knocking on hundreds of doors this election, one thing is clear: people are sick of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. They have had enough of seeing their taxes hiked, sewage dumped in their rivers, and local health services run into the ground.”

Despite people casting their ballots for local representatives who are mainly responsible for planning issues, housing, and rubbish collections, etc., the local elections gave voters their first chance to have their say on the broader national issues. 

These include the soaring energy prices and rising inflation, the cost of food products, the war in Ukraine, and a stimulus test for the Prime Minister following his scandals, among other issues.   

The elections come as The Bank of England has warned that inflation will hit ten percent by the end of the year. 

It says the Russia-Ukraine conflict has sharply intensified the global inflationary pressures and has led to a "material deterioration in the outlook for the world and UK growth." 

It also warned the Russia-Ukraine conflict may cause further supply chain disruptions.

Critics accuse the ruling conservative British government of playing a negative role in the conflict by pouring weapons into a warzone instead of backing the peace process. 

Supporters of Johnson say the economic problems are not something limited to the UK but all Western countries, who took a financial blow from the COVID-19 pandemic while the results of the Ukraine war have hit already rising prices for food items, energy, and other services.

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