- First big election test for Prime Minister Sunak
- Conservatives to lose 1,000 seats – pollster
- Labor says it will win the next general election
LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives faced local election results on Friday as voters punished his party after a year of political scandals, inflation and stagnant economic growth.
While ruling parties often struggle in mid-term elections, the UK’s council results will be the biggest, and last, test of voter sentiment before the next general election next year.
Sunak came to power in October amid a cost-of-living crisis, growing concern about healthcare, widespread industrial action that has disrupted public services and waning enthusiasm for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
Only a quarter of the 8,000 council seats in the local authorities, which are responsible for providing day-to-day services such as rubbish bins and schools, were counted.
The results, which did not affect the government’s majority in parliament, saw the Conservatives suffer a net loss of 235 seats, while the main opposition Labor added 122 and the Liberal Democrats gained 63.
Labor said in a statement that the results put it on track to win the next general election by eight points over the Conservatives.
Sunak’s party lost to Labor in key target seats in the north and south of England, while the Liberal Democrats were making inroads in wealthier parts of the south.
The Prime Minister told reporters that the results so far show that the people want his ruling party to deliver on their priorities, but that it is still too early in the process of announcing the results to make firm decisions.
John Curtis, Britain’s most popular pollster, said the Conservatives were in “significant electoral trouble” based on the results so far, with a net loss of around 1,000 seats, in line with the party’s most pessimistic forecast.
The four-point swing towards Labor from 2019 was less than expected, given its double-digit lead in opinion polls, but smaller parties are doing better in local elections.
“While the rejection from voters to the Conservatives has been unequivocal, there may still be some question about the level of their enthusiasm for the Labor alternative,” he said.
The full picture of the parties’ position will not be clear until Friday, when most assemblies announce their results.
A ‘terrible’ night for the Conservatives
Sunak has sought to restore the Conservatives’ credibility since becoming prime minister in October, the party’s third prime minister in the past year.
Boris Johnson was kicked out as leader of parties held in government buildings during the COVID-19 lockdowns, while Liz Truss was brought down following a gambit on tax cuts that tarnished Britain’s reputation for financial stability.
Sunak’s party lost control of at least eight councils in what Plymouth MP Jonny Mercer said was a “terrible” night for the Conservatives.
The Conservatives lost over 1,300 seats when most of these local elections were last contested in 2019, which was expected to help reduce losses in these elections.
Labor won the 2016 Brexit referendum in some areas that supported leaving the EU, and the party needs to win if it is 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 vital to the party’s hopes of returning to power nationally.
“Make no mistake, we will have a Labor majority at the next general election,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said during a visit to Medway.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Michael Perry
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