- First big election test for Prime Minister Sunak
- Conservatives to lose 1,000 seats – pollster
- Labor says it will win the next general election
LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives faced local election results on Friday as voters punished his party after a year of political scandals, inflation and stagnant economic growth.
While ruling parties often struggle in mid-term elections, the UK’s council results will be the biggest, and last, test of voter sentiment before the next general election next year.
Only a quarter of the 8,000 council seats in the local bodies were counted, which are responsible for the day-to-day provision of public services such as bins and schools.
Early results, which did not affect the government’s majority in parliament, saw the Conservatives suffer a net loss of 218 seats, the main opposition Labor party gaining 118 seats and the Liberal Democrats gaining 57 seats.
Labor said in a statement that based on these local election results, it is on track to win the next general election with an eight-point lead over the Conservatives.
Sunak’s party lost to Labor in key target seats in the north and south of England, while the Liberal Democrats were making inroads in wealthier parts of the south.
The Prime Minister told reporters that the results so far show that the people want his ruling party to deliver on their priorities, but that it is still too early in the process of announcing the results to make firm decisions.
John Curtis, Britain’s most popular pollster, said based on the results so far, the Conservatives were in “significant electoral trouble” and could suffer a net loss of around 1,000 seats, in line with the party’s most pessimistic forecast.
The full picture of the parties’ position will not be clear until Friday, when most assemblies announce their results.
Sunak has sought to restore the Conservatives’ credibility since becoming prime minister in October following months of economic turmoil and strikes.
The Conservatives have changed prime ministers three times in the past year after Boris Johnson was partially ousted at parties held in government buildings during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and Liz Truss was ousted following a gamble on tax cuts that tarnished Britain’s reputation for fiscal stability.
Labor has made gains in some areas that supported leaving the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
In the early hours of Friday, Labor won control of Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and Medway councils, three key battleground areas seen as vital to the party’s hopes of winning the next general election.
Sunak’s party lost control of at least eight councils.
Plymouth MP Jonny Mercer said it was a “terrible” night for the Conservatives.
The Conservatives lost more than 1,300 seats when most of these local elections were last contested in 2019, which was expected to help reduce losses in these elections.
Gavin Barwell, a former Conservative minister and member of the Upper House, said the results reflected the political and economic turmoil of the past year.
Sunak “is improving but he started miles behind and he has a hell of a job to try to close the gap,” he told the BBC.
Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Michael Perry
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