Sunday, 3 July 2022 – 14:07

Bad night for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives as Liberal Democrats the major winners

The Prime Minister will be taking a sigh of relief as the Conservatives have not done as poorly as some had predicted, but Johnson will still receive heavy criticism for losing control of three iconic Conservative councils and nearly 500 council seats across the United Kingdom.

Labour has wrested control of the councils of Wandsworth, Westminster, and Barnet from the Conservative party. The Conservative party had controlled the council of Wandsworth since 1978, and those of Westminster and Barnet since 1964.

Wandsworth council was supposedly the favourite council of Margaret Thatcher, while Westminster is home to the houses of parliament, meaning that the loss of these councils is a large symbolic loss for the Conservative party.

However, some commentators had predicted a far worse outcome for the Conservatives than has been witnessed so far, amidst the fallout from the Partygate scandal and the cost-of-living crisis. This does not mean that the party has not been dealt a significant blow – they have still done poorly, but their performance will probably allow Boris Johnson to hold onto his role as Prime Minister for the time being.

Regarding his party’s performance, Johnson said:

“It is mid-term. It’s certainly a mixed set of results.”

We had a tough night in some parts of the country but on the other hand in other parts of the country you are still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains in places that haven’t voted Conservative for a long time, if ever …”

“The big lesson from this is that this is a message from voters that what they want us to do above all – one, two and three – is focus on the big issues that matter to them, taking the country forward, making sure we fix the post-Covid aftershock, get us all through the economic aftershocks in the way we got through Covid, fix the energy supply issues, that’s where the inflationary spike is coming, and keep going with our agenda of high wage, high skill jobs. That is what we are focused on.”

However, some Conservative politicians have been considerably less generous to the Prime Minister. Sir Roger Gale called on the Prime Minister to resign, while Tobias Ellwood called on the Prime Minister to call for a confidence vote on his own leadership. Meanwhile many Conservative councillors who lost their seats voiced that they felt that they had lost their seats because of the parties leadership – not because of policies.

James Mallinson, formerly a councillor for Carlisle, said that voters no longer  had “confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth.”

Former Wandsworth councillor Ravi Govindia said:

“Let’s not be coy about it, of course national issues were part of the dilemma people were facing”

“Other events have clouded the judgement of people in Wandsworth… consistently on the doorstep the issue of Boris Johnson was raised”

Labour’s takeaway from the local elections will be a mixed bag of messages. On the one hand Labour has seized the above symbolic councils, along with Southampton, from the conservatives, on the other hand it has also lost Hull’s council to the Liberal Democrats and, perhaps most importantly, failed to regain ground in many of the “Red Wall” seats that were lost in 2019 – seats that Labour will need to reclaim if they can hope to form a government at the next general election. Nonetheless, Labour are describing the elections as a great result.

Keir Starmer said:

“This is a big turning point… From the depths of the 2019 general election, we’re back on track.”

“We’ve sent a message to the prime minister: Britain deserves better”

Another upset for Labour was announced as the Labour leader was celebrating his party’s election performance. Durham Police Force have announced they will be investigating “Beergate”; an incident in which Keir Starmer was photographed drinking a beer with colleagues while campaigning. Durham police had previously investigated the event and found no evidence lockdown rules had been breached.

Two parties that will be very happy with their election performance are the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. (At time of writing) The Liberal Democrats, while only winning one additional council, have increased their number of councillors by around 30%, while the Green Party have increased their number of councillors by around 130%. the Liberal Democrats will be especially pleased that they have started breaking through the so-called “blue-wall”, areas usually considered safely Conservative that the Lib Dems are hoping to target in the next general election.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats said of his party’s performance:

“There is now a real picture emerging across the country, particularly in areas held by the Conservatives, that the Lib Dems are the real challengers.”

“It is a movement of millions of people who are saying they had enough of energy bills going up, tax bills going up, and the standards of living going down. They are saying they have had enough of this prime minister.”

Another area to watch as more councils are called is Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has always had a majority of councillors being from the Democratic Unionist Party, with Sinn Féin coming in second. However, this time around polls suggest these positions will be reversed – possibly indicative of a changing zeitgeist regarding Northern Ireland leaving the UK – another potential headache for Boris Johnson.

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