Sinn Féin stuns Ireland as UK elections show divided country 

May 7, 2022 - 18:15

The latest results from the UK local elections show the ruling Conservative party has lost hundreds of council seats while the nationalist Sinn Féin party (which advocates for the reunification of Ireland) made political history in Northern Ireland. 

According to British media projections, if the local election results are replicated at a general election, the Conservatives would lose their parliamentary majority. 

The analysis suggests it would be a hung parliament with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Tories remaining the largest party in Westminster but falling some 50 seats short of an overall majority. 

According to one media projection, the Conservatives would have 278 seats, just seven more than Labour on 271, after the Tories lost key local councils in London to Labour. 

Some local Conservative leaders were blaming the Prime Minister for the shock losses; while the “partygate” scandal and the cost of living dominated the headlines.

One Tory MP told the media "It's pretty grim. The PM is to blame, no one else, and there are now 19 Tory London MPs who will be baying for blood. The PM is killing our traditional vote."

Senior Conservative Roger Gale suggested Johnson may try and trigger a no-confidence vote in himself "to get that done, dusted and out of the way" but he added that it would be a "high-risk strategy".

This comes as Johnson's allies warn it is not the time to change the party’s leader as they insist Labour's gains fell short of what was needed for the party to secure a general election victory.

Johnson admitted "we've had a tough night in some parts of the country, but on the other hand, in other parts of the country, you're still seeing Conservatives going forward,”

The other major concern for Johnson or his potential replacement is what looms ahead between now and the next general election, with a recession on the horizon and double-digit inflation; an economic outlook that could push even more voters away come 2024.

Labor members were jubilant especially after grabbing the Tories' seat in Wandsworth, the London borough which has been held by the Tories since 1978.

A spokesperson for Labour said, "the question every decent Conservative will be asking themselves is how much further they are willing to fall for a man who never fails to put his own interest above his councilors, his MPs, his party, and his country."

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said the results "sent a message to the prime minister that Britain deserves better", he also believes that "this is a big turning point for [Labour]," 

But his comments came as Police confirmed they are opening a formal investigation into claims the Labour leader broke Covid-19 lockdown rules.

Despite the gains in the British capital, the main opposition Labour party also had mixed results outside London. 

In high profile places where Labour needed to make advances the party failed to win those local councils. 

The Conservatives saw a substantial drop in support in the south of England but Labour has seen a larger drop in the north.

Both parties have a long way ahead to rebuild the trust of voters amid a low turnout. 

As results in Scotland and Wales are yet to be fully published, the biggest winners appear to be the rise in support for the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party across England.

The Green Party has hailed what it described as “phenomenal” local election results, as it headed above 80 gains in areas, some of which were quite significant.

It follows a pattern of recent local elections, in which the Greens have both won more seats and extended the geographical representation by taking seats from both Labour and the Conservatives.

Adrian Ramsay, the Greens’ co-leader, says the expectation was that further gains would come: “The phenomenal results for the Green party so far demonstrate that people up and down the country are looking for a credible alternative to the establishment parties, and finding it in us.”

“Whether that’s former Conservative voters put off by poor handling of the Covid pandemic or the constant leadership lies, or former Labour voters who just see weak opposition at a national and local level.”

Greens are putting forward the practical solutions to the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency that will make a difference to people’s lives, from insulating homes to bringing down energy bills and creating jobs, to providing additional financial support for those on the lowest incomes.”

Meanwhile, there have been dramatic results In Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin (the former political wing of the militant Irish Republican Army) has came out on top as voters (unlike the rest of the UK that voted locally) elected the region’s next assembly. 

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost its superiority by slumping to 21.3% in the first preference vote. Tim Cairns, a former special adviser to the party said on social media that it was “a disaster for the DUP.”

There was scenes of celebration at Sinn Féin camps with the party receiving 250,388 first preferences votes and the DUP getting 184,002.

Unionist anger at the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, which puts a trade border in the Irish Sea is believed to have dominated the focus of the election in Northern Ireland as well as the contest between Sinn Féin and the DUP for the first minister post.

The results now position Sinn Féin's deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, to become the region’s first minister, marking a seismic breakthrough for the political landscape in Northern Ireland.

Despite some obstacles ahead, the victory is significant as it would be the first time the nationalist party, which is committed to Irish reunification, has beaten unionists in the region.

The DUP has said it would block the formation of a new power-sharing executive until the Northern Ireland protocol was changed.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pointed out that Sinn Fein’s performance has shown there are “big questions” around the future of the UK “as a political entity”.

She says “If (Sinn Fein) emerges as the largest party today in Northern Ireland which looks very likely, that will be an extraordinary result and something that seemed impossible not that long ago.”

“There’s no doubt there are big fundamental questions being asked of the UK as a political entity right now.
They’re being asked here in Scotland, they’re being asked in Northern Ireland, they’re being asked in Wales and I think we’re going to see some fundamental changes to UK governance in the years to come and I am certain one of those changes is going to be Scottish independence.”

Nationalist analyst Brian Feeney said “the shock of Sinn Féin’s massive victory has confirmed the worst fears” of unionists from the Democratic Unionist Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice, that “the game is up for ethnic solidarity unionism”.

Speaking in Belfast, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald 
said the election results could potentially reflect a "historic moment of equality" and show that the nation was "only going forward".

She noted that the potential reunification process for Ireland was "all about the future" and about "building a new Ireland" together.

"It is the most exciting prospect for our nation and it's one that has to involve all of us," she pointed out.

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