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Labour heaps heavy defeat on Tories in local polls

Labour heaps heavy defeat on Tories in local polls

LONDON: Britain’s opposition La­bour Party won a parliamentary seat in northern England on Friday and control of several councils, inflicting heavy losses on the governing Conservatives to pile more pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to hold an early general election.

The thumping victory set the tone for what will be a closely watched two days of local results before the national election this year, which polling shows could put Labour leader Keir Starmer in power and end 14 years of Conservative government.

While suffering what were expec­ted losses, the Conservative Ben Hou­chen won re-election as the mayor of the northern region of Tees Valley, offering some comfort to Sunak. He is also hoping the party’s mayoral candidate in the West Midlands will hold onto power to help silence calls for him to step down.

Voters cast their ballots on Thursday for more than 2,000 seats on local authorities across England and a handful of high-profile mayoral elections, including in the capital, London.

The results are certain to pile pressure on PM Sunak to call early general election

Blackpool South was the only parliamentary seat up for grabs after the Conservative lawmaker quit over a lobbying scandal, and Starmer was quick to say it was the vote that mattered.

“Here in Blackpool, a message has been sent directly to the prime minister,” Starmer told supporters in the coastal resort. “This was directly to Rishi Sunak, to say we’re fed up with your decline, your chaos, of your division, and we want change. We want to go forward with Labour.” Labour candidate Chris Webb won with 10,825 votes to the Conservative candidate’s 3,218. The swing of 26 per cent to Labour from the 2019 result was the third biggest in post-war by-election history, polling expert John Curtice said.

The right-wing Reform party narrowly missed out on beating the Conservatives, finishing third.

‘A tough night’

The chairman of the Conser­vative Party, Richard Holden, said it had been “a tough night”.

Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are about 20 percentage points behind Labour in most polls for the national election, which Sunak has said he intends to call in the second half of the year.

The British leader had hoped his announcement on increased defe­nce spending and the passing of his divisive plan to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda might win over voters, but the losses could again fuel calls for him to step down.

Curtice said based on results so far, the Conservatives could be looking at their worst local election results for 40 years and were on course for defeat in the national election.

The first of the more than 2,600 local council results showed Labour making gains at the expense of the Conservatives — in line with finance minister Jeremy Hunt’s pre-vote prediction of significant losses for the governing party.

But the Conservatives seized on Starmer’s failure to win control of one south-eastern council that it had targeted and hailed the victory of Houchen, who, while campaigning, had distanced himself from the Conservative brand.

The Conservatives will also hope that they will retain the mayoralty in the West Midlands. The results of that election and one in London, where current Labour mayor Sadiq Khan is expected to win another term, are due on Saturday.

“We’ve still got lots of results to come as well ... there are also things that I would point to, Harlow for example where Keir Starmer held a rally just on Wednesday saying that was a place that he had to win to be on track to win a general election — that hasn’t happened,” Sunak told reporters.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2024


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