Boris Johnson loses London strongholds in local elections

  • Conservatives lose Westminster, Wandsworth strongholds
  • Seen steadfastly in English pro-Brexit areas
  • The results are a test of Johnson’s popularity

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party has lost control of its traditional strongholds in London and suffered setbacks elsewhere in local elections as voters punished his government for a series of scandals.

As early results suggested Johnson, the former mayor of London, was losing support in southeast England, his supporters moved quickly on Friday to say it was not time to oust a leader they said could still “get things done” to help the economy.

Johnson’s party has been ousted in Wandsworth, a low-tax Conservative bastion since 1978, and is part of a trend in the British capital where voters have used the election to express anger over the cost-of-living crisis and fines imposed on the prime minister for breaching special COVID-19 lockdown rules.

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For the first time, the opposition Labor Party won Westminster House, a district where most government institutions are located. The Conservatives also lost control of Barnet, which the party has held in all but two elections since 1964.

“Fantastic result, absolutely fantastic. Believe me, this is a huge turning point for us from the depths of the 2019 general election,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told supporters in London.

The tally, due later on Friday, will provide the most important snapshot of public opinion since Johnson won a majority for the largest Conservative Party in more than 30 years in the 2019 national election.

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The ballot is an electoral test for Johnson since he became the first British leader in living memory to break the law while in office. He was fined last month for attending a birthday gathering in his office in 2020, and for breaching social distancing rules then in place to limit the spread of COVID. Read more

The loss of key councils in London, where the Conservatives have been nearly wiped out, will pile more pressure on Johnson, who has been fighting for his political survival for months and facing the prospect of more police fines for attending other rallies to break the lockdown.

But with signs of support for his party in areas of central and northern England that backed leaving the European Union in 2016, some Conservatives said Johnson’s critics were unlikely to have the numbers to trigger a coup for now.

Thursday’s election will settle nearly 7,000 council seats, including all those in London, Scotland and Wales, and a third of the seats in most of the rest of England.

Johnson upended traditional British politics in the 2019 general election with a victory and then promised to improve living standards in the former industrial regions of central and northern England.

But since then, it has been mired in scandal and facing a mounting cost-of-living crisis, with millions of people grappling with rising energy bills and food prices. The Bank of England warned on Thursday that Britain risks a double whammy of recession and inflation above 10%. Read more

This has eroded support for the prime minister in London, where his support for Brexit has led to a rift with many voters who voted to remain in the EU.

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Outside the capital, the Conservatives have lost overall control of the councils in Southampton, Worcester, and West Oxfordshire.

But the party’s performance was not as bad as some opinion polls had expected. One poll in the run-up to the election said the Conservatives could lose about 800 seats in the House.

John Curtis, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said early trends suggested the Conservatives were on track to lose about 250 seats. He said the results indicate that the Labor Party may not emerge as the largest party in the upcoming elections.

Conservative leader Oliver Dowden said the party had “achieved some tough results” after weeks of what he called “tough headlines”, but Labor is not on track to win the next general election.

“What you see in the prime minister is someone who gets things done, a change maker,” Dowden said. “We need that kind of bold leadership precisely at a time when we are facing these big challenges, whether it’s the cost of living, Ukraine, or the economic situation around the world.”

Some local Conservative Council leaders have called on Johnson to resign.

John Mallinson, the Conservative leader of Carlisle City Council, told the BBC he had found it “difficult to bring the discussion back to local issues”.

“I just don’t feel like people anymore have confidence that the prime minister can be relied on to tell the truth.”

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(Reporting by Andrew McCaskill and Elizabeth Piper); Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Stephen Coates and Andrew Heavens

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Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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