British ruling party loses in Sunak’s first electoral test

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By Webdesk

The Conservatives are suffering ‘disappointing’ high-profile losses in local council polls across England ahead of a general UK vote expected next year.

The UK’s governing Conservatives suffered high-profile losses as the results of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s first major electoral test since taking office last year came in.

In the nadir of the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, local council elections held in much of England on Thursday eased the position of major parties ahead of the UK general election expected next year.

Sunak admitted on Friday that things were not looking good for his Conservative Party.

“It’s always disappointing to lose hard-working Conservative councillors,” the prime minister told Sky News.

But he pledged to continue with “people’s priorities” – including halving double-digit inflation, restoring economic growth and stopping boatloads of refugees and migrants from crossing the English Channel.

The vote count will not be complete until Friday evening, as the UK prepares for the coronation of King Charles III on Saturday.

But the main opposition Labor party crowed that the trend was already evident with England’s 230 districts electing more than 8,000 council seats.

“These results have been a disaster for Rishi Sunak as voters punish him for the Tories’ failure,” said Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator.

“These results show we are on track for a majority Labor government,” she added.

UK Labor Party leader Keir Starmer speaks at his party's annual conference in Liverpool, UK.
Labor Party leader Keir Starmer speaks at his party’s annual conference in Liverpool, UK [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

By 09:20 local time (08:20 GMT), 62 councils had announced their results. Sunak’s Conservatives had lost 228 seats – a third of the total they were defending so far.

That trend would put the centre-right party on course for its worst defeat in local elections since the mid-1990s, before Labor took power nationally under Tony Blair.

Transport Secretary Huw Merriman said his party paid the price last year for the chaotic few weeks when it ousted Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss as leader in quick succession.

Local voters have been talking “older news about former prime ministers – but saying your current leader seems to have what it takes,” he told the BBC, pointing out that Sunak was on the right track.

Labor rose 119 seats and took control of prized targets in Plymouth in the south west of England, Medway in the south east and Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands – where 70 per cent of voters voted for Brexit in 2016.

Extrapolating to a national result in the next general election, Mahmood said Labour’s lead over the Conservative Party was more than eight per cent – enough, she said, for leader Keir Starmer to become prime minister.

Labor is particularly targeting its former strongholds in northern England, the so-called “red wall”, which Johnson turned Conservative in the 2019 general election with a promise to “get Brexit done”.

The smaller Liberal Democrat party won 61 seats and penetrated wealthy Conservative districts on the outskirts of London, which are nationally represented by members of Sunak’s ‘blue wall’ cabinet.

The centrist opposition party took over the council in Windsor and Maidenhead, west of London, an area represented in Westminster by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

“We are exceeding all expectations,” said Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey.

“We dealt a blow to the Conservative party in the blue wall ahead of next year’s general election.”

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