Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 7 News List

UK local votes bode well for May’s bid for bigger Conservative Party majority


A polling station sign is displayed outside Golborne Community Primary school in Greater Manchester, northern England, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Early results in UK local elections suggested British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party is on course for a sweeping victory, boosting her bid for a larger parliamentary majority next month to help her navigate Brexit.

As of 7:15am yesterday in London, with results for more than 1,200 seats out of 4,851 declared, the Conservatives had won more than 540 — a net gain of nearly 150 — according to a tally by the BBC.

The Tories gained control of five county and district councils out of the 22 counted and won the inaugural contest for a regional mayor in the West of England, centered on Bristol.

The main opposition Labour Party had about 380 seats for a net loss of about 120, while the UK Independence Party (UKIP) lost all 41 of the seats it held where results were announced.

The outcome appeared to confirm polling that shows UKIP voters have been rallying to the Conservatives since last year’s Brexit vote, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has failed to inspire supporters.

The trend suggests May could achieve her goal of a large parliamentary majority in the national election on June 8.

“We’ve seen a very strong swing from Labour to the Conservatives, averaging around 7 percentage points,” Strathclyde University professor of politics John Curtice told the BBC. “The Conservatives are way ahead of Labour nationally. Their best local election results for 10 years, maybe for 25 years.”

However, turnout is lower in local elections, and votes were not being held in areas including London, which traditionally leans toward Labour.

With different areas counting at different times, the results offered some hard blows to Labour. The party lost almost a quarter of its seats in its heartland of Wales.

“It’s going to be a difficult election,” Philip Johnson, Labour’s candidate for the general-election target seat of Nuneaton, in central England, told the BBC after he lost his council seat in a county that fell to the Tories.

The Liberal Democrats, who are trying to use their opposition to Brexit to appeal to voters angry at the referendum result, showed no signs of a breakthrough. They had 135 seats, a net loss of 26.

For May, a favorable result comes with some risk. Her election message has been built around the idea that votes for Labour or the Liberal Democrats threaten to put Corbyn in power. A sweeping win in the local elections could make that look less plausible and undermine her efforts to ensure a strong turnout on June 8.

May has already been warning that polls showing her ahead could be wrong.

Conservative Home Office minister Brandon Lewis stuck to that message as he listened to the local results, telling the BBC: “There’s a long way to go [to the June vote].”

Elections were taking place in councils across large areas of England and all of Scotland and Wales, with results due to arrive through yesterday evening. The winners will have responsibility for local schools, trash collection and planning decisions.

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