Conservative voters, headed by British Prime Minister Sunak, declined in the local elections

Conservative voters, headed by British Prime Minister Sunak, declined in the local elections
  • First major election test for Prime Minister Sunak
  • The Conservatives could lose 1,000 seats – polls
  • The Labor Party says it is on its way to winning the next general election

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives face a grim set of local election results on Friday as voters punish his party after a year of political scandals, high inflation and stagnant economic growth.

And while ruling parties often struggle in mid-term elections, the results of the Assembly in England will be the biggest, and perhaps the last, test of voter sentiments before the next general election, which is expected to take place next year.

Sunak came to power in October amid a cost-of-living crisis, growing anxiety about health care, a widespread industrial strike that disrupted public services, and waning enthusiasm for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The count was only made in about a quarter of the 8,000 council seats in local government authorities, which have responsibility for day-to-day service provision such as bin groups and schools.

The results, which do not affect the government’s majority in Parliament, showed the Conservatives making a net loss of 235 seats while the main opposition Labor Party added 122 seats and the Liberal Democrats gained 63 seats.

The Labor Party said in a statement that, based on these results, it is on its way to winning the next general election by eight points over the Conservatives.

Sunak’s party suffered losses to Labor in key target seats in the north and south of England, while the Liberal Democrats had a lead in the wealthier parts of the south.

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The prime minister told reporters that the results so far have shown that people want his ruling party to fulfill their priorities, but it is still too early in the process of announcing the results to draw firm conclusions.

John Curtis, Britain’s most popular pollster, said the Conservatives faced a “major electoral problem” based on the results so far and could face a net loss of around 1,000 seats – in line with the party’s most pessimistic forecast.

He added that the four-point swing towards Labor since 2019 was smaller than would have been expected, given its double-digit lead in opinion polls, although smaller parties are doing better in local elections.

“While the voters’ rejection of the Conservatives was clear, there may still be a question mark over their level of enthusiasm for the alternative to the Labor Party,” he said.

The full picture of the state of the parties will not become clear until later on Friday, when most of the councils will announce their results.

Terrible night for the governors

Sunak has tried to restore the conservatives’ credibility since becoming prime minister in October, the party’s third prime minister last year.

Boris Johnson was ousted as leader in part due to parties held in government buildings during the COVID-19 lockdowns, while Liz Truss was brought down after gambling on tax cuts that shattered Britain’s reputation for financial stability.

Sunak’s party lost control of at least eight councils in what Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth, said was a “terrible” night for the Conservatives.

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The last time most of these local election seats were contested was in 2019 when the Conservatives lost more than 1,300 seats which was expected to help limit losses in this election.

Labor made gains in some of the areas that supported leaving the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum which the party will need to win if it wants to achieve a majority in the next general election.

In the early hours of Friday, Labor won control of Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Medway councils, three key battleground areas seen as important to the party’s hopes of returning to power at a national level.

“Make no mistake, we are well on our way to achieving a Labor majority in the next general election,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said on a visit to Medway.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill. Editing by Michael Berry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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