- Sunak’s first major election test as prime minister
- The results of a clear rejection of conservatives – opinion polls
- The Labor Party says it is on course to win the next national election
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives suffered heavy losses in a local election on Friday, undermining his attempts to revive their fortunes and emboldening the opposition Labor Party ahead of a national vote expected next year.
Sunak took power in October after a year of political scandals, high inflation and stagnant economic growth. While in office, he faced a cost-of-living crisis, growing concern about health care and widespread industrial strikes.
While ruling parties often struggle in mid-term elections, the results of the Council in England are the biggest, and perhaps the last, test of voter sentiment ahead of the next national election due by January 2025.
With the majority of councils counting their votes, which does not affect the government’s majority in Parliament, the Conservatives had lost 943 seats by 1802 GMT, while Labor added 486 and the Liberal Democrats gained 353 seats.
The Labor Party said they were now on their way to power in the next general election. A Sky News projection based on vote share in early results reported that Labor could get 36-38% of the vote in the next national election, making it the largest party, with the Conservatives at 28-30%.
The projection said Labor may not reach a majority, although that may depend on how it performs in Scotland, where it is vying for seats from the SNP and which has not held a local election.
A similar report by the BBC said Labor would get 35% in the national election while the Conservatives would get 26%. Some in Sunak’s party expressed concern about the results.
Labor has won control of Swindon City Council, the town in southwest England where Labor leader Keir Starmer, who has always voted for ruling party lawmakers since 1983, launched his election campaign.
“No spin, no shine. That’s an appalling set of results,” said Justin Tomlinson, the Conservative MP for Swindon North. “The party collectively needs to take this as a wake-up call for modernization and renewal.”
It was to vote on the election of around 8,000 councilors for the local government authorities responsible for providing day-to-day services such as bin groups and schools.
Sunak’s party suffered losses to Labor in the northern and southern seats of England, while the Liberal Democrats advanced in the wealthier parts of the south.
Sunak told reporters that the results so far have shown that people want his ruling party to live up to their priorities, but it is still too early in the process of announcing the results to reach firm conclusions as the charges continue.
John Curtis, Britain’s most popular pollster, said if Tory losses approached 1,000 seats it would lead to deep electoral trouble, and the results were an “unequivocal” rejection of the party as it tries to stay in government in the next parliamentary election.
“(Labor) may win an overall (parliamentary) majority, not because of any great enthusiasm on the part of the electorate for Labor, but simply because the Conservatives are doing so badly,” he told BBC radio.
Sunak has tried to restore the Conservatives’ credibility since becoming prime minister and third leader of his party last year after Boris Johnson’s scandal-plagued premiership and chaotic economic policies ousted Blaise Truss in the space of two months.
Sunak’s party lost control of dozens of councils in what Johnny Mercer, the MP for Plymouth, said was a “terrible” night for the Conservatives.
Labor made gains in some of the areas that supported leaving the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum, which the party will need to win if it wants to achieve a majority in the next parliament.
“Make no mistake, we are well on our way to achieving a majority for Labor at the next general election,” Starmer said during a visit to Medway, one of the council’s picks.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill. Editing by Michael Berry
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