- Britain’s ruling Conservative Party has lost 335 seats in local elections, although it retains control in a majority of counties.
- The Liberal Democrats, who rule in a coalition government with the Conservatives, have lost 123 seats.
- The opposition Labour Party has won 291 seats and with it control of Derbyshire, Durham and Nottinghamshire.
- The United Kingdom Independence Party won 139 seats. It failed to win control anywhere but has wiped out the far-right British National Party.
- The Sun, Britain’s largest tabloid newspaper, refused to endorse either party. The Daily Mirror backed Labour.
British prime minister David Cameron’s Conservatives are likely to lose hundreds of local government seats today as the Euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party threatens to split the right-wing vote. Due to its first-past-the-post voting system, Labour could emerge as the main beneficiary from Britain’s conservative discontent.
A ComRes poll conducted in late April and limited to the areas where elections are held showed the Conservatives at 31 percent support and UKIP at 22.
Labour’s 24 percent support in the survey is well below its national average because Scotland doesn’t vote today. The party usually performs well in the former industrial heartland of northern England, near the Scottish border, except for North Yorkshire and the Lake District. Geographically large but sparsely populated rural areas, especially in the south, tend to vote either Conservative or Liberal Democrat.
Conservative and liberal voters are likely to punish their favored parties for their perceived failings in government in favor of Labour and UKIP, respectively.
Cameron’s party won 38 percent of the votes in the last local elections in England in 2009 when Gordon Brown’s Labour government was deeply unpopular. It gained 244 council seats at the time and was able to take control of all but one local legislatures.
A year later, Conservatives got 36 percent support in the national election, giving them a plurality of the seats in Parliament but not a majority. They were forced into a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats who had grown largely due to Labour defections.
The alliance hasn’t satisfied voters of either party. Conservatives complain that their leaders have become too liberal, refusing, for instance, to cut health care and international aid while struggling to rein in a £90 billion deficit, equivalent to 6 percent of annual economic output.
Liberal voters, by contrast, were upset when their party broke its campaign promise not to raise education fees and have been altogether disheartened by its support for austerity policies when Labour argues there should be more emphasis on growth.
Many conservatives, moreover, share UKIP’s Euroskepticism and immigration concerns. Although Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain’s European Union membership after the next general election in 2015 and says he intends to curb immigration flows, including from European countries, rightwingers are unconvinced. Cameron will campaign to keep Britain in the body while European law prohibits the United Kingdom from refusing entry and employment to Central and Eastern European workers.
In what seemed a last minute bid to lure Euroskeptic voters to his side, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested in a BBC Radio interview on Wednesday that he might call a referendum on the nation’s European Union membership earlier than the next election or at least put legal safeguards in place to ensure that it’s held immediately thereafter.
“I think we need to demonstrate absolutely that we are serious about this referendum,” the prime minister contended. “We’ve said we’re going to hold it, we’ve said it’s going to be an in-out referendum, we’ve set a date by which it must be held.” Anything to “strengthen that offer, as it were, I’m prepared to consider,” he added.
The Telegraph newspaper cited “conservative sources” later in the day insisting the premier was prepared to bring forward legislation, “even it failed to be enacted because it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats and Labour—an outcome that would send a strong signal that the Tories are committed to a referendum, unlike the other main parties.”
The Open Europe think tank is skeptical, pointing out that Cameron has already promised that legislation will be drafted before the next election but it cannot be introduced as a government bill while the Conservatives are in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
The alternative would be to have a Conservative lawmaker introduce the legislation but given Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition, “This could allow for a symbolic vote” with “little chance of it becoming law.”
The other parties want to keep Britain in the European Union and fear that a referendum might show a majority of Britons would rather opt out.
The Sun tabloid newspaper, the most popular in Britain with well over two million readers, refused to endorse either party on Thursday, urging voters instead to judge candidates individually.
The paper supported David Cameron’s Conservatives in the last election but is disappointed that many local party members have defied their premier’s demand to freeze council taxes.
UKIP, even if it has “shaken up Westminster’s cosy elite with admirable plain talking,” is hardly a viable alternative. Little of what it proposes, according to The Sun, “really stands up as proper thought through policy.”
“Labour,” finally, “is still in complete denial about the economic mess they created while in power.”
The Daily Mirror by contrast, which has some one million readers, predictably backed Labour. The paper’s Brian Reade specifically advised against voting UKIP, arguing, oddly similar to The Sun, that it offered no real solutions, rather would seek to take the country back “to some mythical white, crime free paradise which never existed.”
Britain’s other major newspaper carried no editorials on the elections although The Telegraph praised Cameron for suggesting that a referendum on the nation’s European Union membership might be brought forward, “not least since it could well flush out Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, whose terror of giving the British people a say on this issue is almost palpable.”
The far-right British National Party is being “wiped out by the UKIP surge” in Lincolnshire, according to ground sources, with their vote being replaced by that of the Euroskeptics who are likely to become the second largest faction in the county council, up eleven seats so far.
In 2009, the nationalists polled 20.5 percent of the vote in Spalding East and Moulton ward in Lincolnshire. This time, they polled a pathetic 3.9 percent.
The BBC reported early Friday morning that Conservatives had lost control of the Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire councils but retained Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Somerset, all counties in the south of England. Labour did made gains in this otherwise conservative territory as well as in the more traditional battleground of the Midlands.
The United Kingdom Independence Party had won 42 council seats as of Friday morning and was averaging 26 percent of the votes in the wards where they were standing. A spokesman for the Euroskeptic party said it was “delighted” and on course to win “well over” one hundred seats while counting still took place in 28 English counties as well as the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.
The BBC has just accused the Liberal Democrats of being complacent while their party is in the middle of a crisis, seeing in South Shields their vote share decline from 14 to some 1 percent, argued that the coalition has been unmitigated disaster for them.
Labour has won the mayoral contest in North Tyneside.
Many have gone out so far and dismissed UKIP as a protest vote, however, they ought to be taken notice of as they are offering what the people want, grammar schools for instance. One voter said, “I would vote UKIP at future elections as they stand for two key principles: sovereignty and democracy — unlike ConLibLab.”
If the Conservatives lose more than 244 seats, they will see all their gains from 2009 wiped out.
Samuel Mather, a Young Labour activist, had to this to say about the local elections when I asked him for his views:
I’m very happy with the results so far in areas Labour aren’t necessarily historically strong in and the people of the shire counties are showing they’re not happy with the Tory-led government.
When I questioned him about the threat UKIP poses to Labour, given the surprising fact that the left sometimes comes full circle and has been known to vote UKIP or for the nationalists, he told me:
I feel that the threat of UKIP shouldn’t be underestimated and that their popularity shows that a large percentage of the population feels disfranchised by a political class they feel removed from.
UKIP seems to have the entire political class running. If so, is this the start of a new era in British politics?
After an exciting 48 hours, there are just four English councils left to declare results as well as the Island of Anglesey in Wales and the mayoral contest in Doncaster.
With regards to numbers, the Conservatives hold sixteen councils but have lost 229 seats. Labour control one council but have gained nearly two hundred councilors. The Liberal Democrats control no councils and have lost 82 seats. UKIP gained 92 seats but no overall control in any county.
Final results are in! The Conservatives lost 335 seats but kept control of Buckinghamshire, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, West Sussex, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Labour won 291 seats and control of Derbyshire, Durham and Nottinghamshire.
The Liberal Democrats lost 123 seats and have no majority anywhere. Neither does UKIP which gained 139 seats.
In Anglesey, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, East Sussex, Gloucestershire, the Isle of Wight, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, no party won overall control.