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UK Conservatives rebuffed in key elections

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives were facing a bleak set of local election results on Friday with voters punishing his party after a year of political scandals, surging inflation and stagnant economic growth. While governing parties often struggle at mid-term elections, the council results in England will be the largest, and possibly last, test of voter sentiment before the next general election which is expected to be held next year. The Associated Press has the story:

UK Conservatives rebuffed in key elections

Bewslooks- LONDON (AP)

Britain’s Conservative Party endured big losses in early results from local elections being viewed as a test of support for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ’s government as a national election approaches. The opposition Labour Party and Liberal Democrats made significant gains.

While the bulk of results were due later, the Conservatives acknowledged it had already been “a disappointing night” as ballots were counted from Thursday’s voting.

But Conservative chairman Greg Hands argued that it had “not been a resounding result for Labour.” The left-of-center opposition party hopes the results will confirm its front-runner status for a general election that is due by the end of 2024.

With about a quarter of results in, the Conservatives had lost more than 200 seats in elections for more than 8,000 seats on 230 local councils across England. The right-of-center party lost control of several councils, including Medway in southeast England, which it had run for a quarter-century, and the naval city of Plymouth in the southwest.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer joins members and activists at the Labour Party national phone bank in London, Thursday, May 4, 2023. Millions of people in England are voting Thursday in local elections, the first test of electoral opinion since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took over a fractious and exhausted Conservative Party six months ago. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Labour gained control of at least three new councils, while the centrist Liberal Democrats grabbed control from the Conservatives in Windsor, an affluent town west of London that is the location of royal residence Windsor Castle.

While many contests turned on local issues such as potholes and garbage collection, voters appeared to punish the Conservatives for the turmoil that engulfed the party under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He resigned amid multiple scandals and was replaced by Liz Truss, whose rash tax-cutting plans spooked financial markets, hammered the value of the pound and roiled the wider British economy.

The party chose Sunak, a smooth former banker, to try to restore stability to the economy and the government.

Sunak said Friday that “it’s always disappointing to lose hard-working Conservative councilors.” But he insisted that “in terms of the results, it’s still early.”

The Conservatives have been in power nationally since 2010, years that saw austerity following the world global banking crisis, Britain’s divisive decision to leave the European Union, a global pandemic and a European war that has triggered the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.

Labour said the results showed many voters are eager for change. The party’s national campaign coordinator, Shabana Mahmood, said the results put Labour on course to win a majority of seats in a general election.

“These results have been a disaster for Rishi Sunak as voters punish him for the Tories’ failure,” she said.

People outside the polling station in Kings Langley, England, Thursday, May 4, 2023. Millions of people in England are voting Thursday in local elections, the first test of electoral opinion since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took over a fractious and exhausted Conservative Party six months ago. (Harry Stedman/PA via AP)

The results are not a complete snapshot of the U.K. There were no elections in London, Scotland or Wales, while Northern Ireland will vote May 18.

The election was the first to be held since the government changed the law to require voters show photo identification at all U.K. polling stations.

The government says ID is required to vote in many democracies, and the move will help prevent voter fraud. Critics say there is little evidence electoral fraud is a problem in Britain.

Acceptable forms of ID include passports, driver’s licenses and senior citizens’ travelcards — but not transit passes for young people. The government says getting an older person’s travelcard requires proof of age, unlike other transit passes. But the discrepancy has brought allegations the change will disproportionately prevent young people — the group least likely to support the Conservatives — from voting. Poor people are also less likely to have photo ID than the more affluent.

Official elections watchdog the Electoral Commission said after polls closed Thursday night that “overall, the elections were well-run,” but “some people were regrettably unable to vote today as a result” of the new rules.

“It will be essential to understand the extent of this impact, and the reasons behind it, before a final view can be taken on how the policy has worked in practice and what can be learnt for future elections,” the commission said in a statement.

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