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Boris Johnson blamed as Tories lose seats in UK local elections

Boris Johnson blamed as Tories lose seats in UK local elections

4 min. 06.05.2022
The loss of Wandsworth is likely to be felt most keenly by the Tories
Britain�s Prime Minister Boris Johnson pauses during a press conference in New Delhi on April 22, 2022.
Britain�s Prime Minister Boris Johnson pauses during a press conference in New Delhi on April 22, 2022.
Photo credit: AFP

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives shed seats across England and lost control of three London strongholds in Thursday’s local elections, leading to a backlash against the prime minister from local party leaders.

In the capital, the Tories lost control of Wandsworth Council - an iconic seat of UK local government which has been Tory-run since 1978 - as well as in Westminster, where the Houses of Parliament are based. 

They also also ceded power to the main opposition Labour Party in Barnet and in the southern city of Southampton. With about half of councils reporting results by Friday morning, the governing party had lost about one in six of its seats. 

A mixed set of results meant both parties were able to claim solace on Friday. Buttressed by its wins in the capital, Labour hailed a “turning point” in their electoral fortunes. 

And while mid-term elections are always a chance for voters to protest against a governing party, the losses were not as bad for the Tories as some pre-election forecasts. Electoral Calculus had projected they would lose about a third of their seats. 

“There are challenging results, but we have made progress in lots of places,” Tory Party Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Friday, pointing to Conservative gains in Thurrock, Nuneaton and Hartlepool. “I do not accept that Labour have the momentum to form the next government.”

Council seats are being counted Friday in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England, while there are also elections to Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland. The unionist DUP and republican Sinn Fein are vying for the chance to nominate the next first minister.

The elections took place following a succession of missteps by Johnson, including the partygate scandal in which he became the first sitting premier to be fined for breaking the law, after celebrating his birthday in breach of pandemic lockdown rules. That’s alongside voter concerns about a cost-of-living crisis underlined by gloomy economic forecasts from the Bank of England on Thursday’s polling day.

“It is not just partygate, there is the integrity issue,” John Mallinson, the outgoing Tory leader of Carlisle City Council told BBC News. “I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth.” The Carlisle is being replaced by the new Cumberland authority won by the Labour Party.  

The loss of Wandsworth is likely to be felt most keenly by the Tories. The seat of local government was described as former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s favorite council for having the lowest rate of local taxes. Outgoing Tory leader Ravi Govindia told BBC News “consistently on the doorstep the issue of Boris Johnson was raised” by voters during campaigning. 

‘Look in the mirror’

In Portsmouth, where the Tories lost four seats, the leader of the Conservative group Simon Bosher said Johnson should “take a good, strong look in the mirror” because “those are people that are actually bearing the brunt on the doorstep of behavior of what’s been going on in Westminster”.

The Tories also lost control of Worcester, where the Greens and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party gained seats. 

Still, many of the English seats up for grabs were last contested in 2018 during a period of Brexit chaos. That was the high-water mark for Labour under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, leaving them with more limited scope to make gains this time, because they’re defending far more seats than the Tories. 

While Labour won control of Southampton Council from the Tories, the party is making only modest gains in other parts of England, outside of the capital. 

“This is a turning point for the Labour Party,” Shabana Mahmood, the party’s national campaign coordinator said in a statement. “Labour is making headway in England, Scotland and Wales, taking over key Conservative councils and winning in vital parliamentary battlegrounds across the country.

‘We can win’

The Liberal Democrats led by Ed Davey have focused their campaign on making further inroads in Tory heartlands in swathes of southern England following recent by-election successes in North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham. As of Friday morning, they’d gained more seats than Labour and had taken control of the council in Hull from the main opposition party.

The UK media has speculated for weeks that a bad set of local election results-- alongside any further revelations about lockdown-busting parties - could see more Tory Members of Parliament submitting letters of no confidence to prompt a leadership election. 

But Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis on Friday insisted Johnson remains the right person to lead the Conservative Party.

“I absolutely think we can win the next election, and I do think Boris Johnson is the right person to lead us into that,” Lewis told Sky News. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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