Local elections 2023: Labor eyeing power after crushing Tory losses

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  • BBC Politics

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WATCH: UK’s local elections… in 60 seconds

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer says his party is on course to win the next general election after the Tories were defeated in local elections across England.

The Tories have lost 48 councils and more than 1,000 councillors, more than their worst predictions.

Labor says it is now the largest party in local government, overtaking the Tories for the first time since 2002.

“The British public have sent a clear rejection of a prime minister who never had a mandate to begin with,” a Labor spokesman said.

The elections for 230 councils across England are the first major test of Mr Sunak’s electoral popularity since he won the Tory leadership contest and became prime minister last October.

The Liberal Democrats took control of 12 councils, mostly in Tory heartlands, in what their leader Sir Ed Davey said was their “best result in decades”.

The Greens won 241 seats – their best ever result in local elections – and secured their first majority in English councils in Mid-Suffolk, although they were overtaken by Labor as the largest party in Brighton and Hove.

Mr Sunak admitted the results were “disappointing” but said he did not detect a “massive base of movement towards Labour”.

Sir Keir said the “fantastic” results showed his party was well placed to oust the Tories from government in next year’s expected general election.

“Make no mistake, we will have a Labor majority at the next general election,” he told cheering activists in Medway, Kent, one of the councils his party wrested from the Tories.

‘Slightly short of disaster’

Labor won control of councils in key general election battleground areas including Medway, Swindon, Plymouth, Stoke-on-Trent and East Staffordshire.

The BBC’s predicted national vote share is 35% for Labor, 26% for the Tories and 20% for the Lib Dems.

Labor has a nine-point lead over the Conservatives on this measure since the party lost power in 2010.

Sir John Curtis, the pollster, said this year’s results were “not disastrous for the Conservatives”.

But the BBC’s political editor Chris Mason said the results suggested it would be difficult to count on either the Conservatives or Labor winning a majority at the next general election.

After the Tories kicked out two prime ministers last year – Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss – he said he had no intention of moving against Mr Sunak.

However, some Conservatives are reeling from the results, with sacked councilors and critics of Mr Sunak venting their anger at the prime minister.

As the bigger picture became clearer, there was disagreement among the Tories over who was to blame for the loss of many councillors.

The elections took place against a grim economic backdrop in the UK, with high inflation contributing to the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.

A person loyal to Mr Johnson and Ms Truss told the BBC Mr Sunak had “no choice but to own these decisions”.

In a shocking statement, the man said: β€œHe has been chancellor or prime minister for the last three years and it was him and his supporters who drove him out of office to put Boris and Liz in Downing Street.

“The old adage, ‘the economy, stupid’, defines the choice voters have at the ballot box.”

In Swindon, where Labor won control of the borough council for the first time in 20 years, ousted Tory council leader David Renard blamed the “cost of living and the government’s actions over the last 12 months” for his party’s woes locally.

Mr Renard said although the Prime Minister had “started to stabilize things”, voters in Swindon had “something they didn’t like about what happened before that”.

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David Renard, Swindon’s former council leader, lost his own seat

Ben Houchen, the Conservative mayor of Tees Valley, said Tory’s poor performance was in part the result of “the turmoil and upheaval of the last 12 months”.

“Labor has succeeded in turning this into a referendum on the government,” he said, adding that “people don’t think they can vote for us.”

Nigel Churchill, a former Tory councilor who lost his seat on Plymouth council – another Labor target – said “I think we can safely say” the Conservatives will lose the next general election.

“The public doesn’t trust them at the moment,” he said.

But Education Minister Robert Halfon said this year’s local elections were always going to be “difficult” for his party.

He said internal party divisions “didn’t help” but attributed the losses to external factors such as the cost of living crisis and problems with the NHS.

“Every government in the interim, especially one that has been in power for 13 years, always loses in the local elections,” he said.

Other Tory MPs have told the BBC that apathy – Conservative voters staying home – is a big problem for the party.

Key results at a glance:

  • labor With 536 councilors and 22 councils – including key battlegrounds Swindon, Plymouth, Medway and Stoke-on-Trent – the party is expected to win the next general election.
  • Conservatives It lost 1,061 councilors and 48 councilors, but won control of Torbay and Wyre Forest.
  • Liberal Democrats It has 12 councils and 405 councillors, including the former Conservative strongholds of Windsor and Maidenhead and Stratford-on-Avon.
  • Almost 250 Green Councilors were elected, and the party won its first absolute majority on a council in Mid Suffolk

The Conservatives sought to manage expectations ahead of Thursday’s election, with party leader Greg Hands suggesting they could lose up to 1,000 council seats.

In contrast, Labor tried to downplay its chances of victory, predicting around 400 seats.

Most seats were up for election in 2019 at a time when the UK was gripped by political turmoil over Brexit.

Seats for constituencies were mostly in district councils, responsible for services including bin collections, parks, public housing and planning applications.

The remaining elections are for a mix of borough and unitary councils – single local authorities that handle all local services – and for four mayors.

It was the first election in the UK to see voter ID checks at polling stations. Some voters told the BBC they had been turned away from polling stations, prompting critics to call for the ID rules to be dropped.

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