LONDON — Britain’s ruling Tories suffered losses in their few London strongholds in local elections, according to results announced on Friday that will put more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson amid ethics scandals and a situation deteriorating economy.
The vote of more than 200 local councils decides who collects rubbish and fills potholes across the country, and is also seen as an important barometer of public opinion ahead of the next national election, which is due to take place in 2024.
Labor, the main opposition party, which has not been in power nationally since 2010, has taken control of Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster, three London boroughs long held by the Conservatives.
With results for around half of England announced on Friday morning, Labor had not made big gains outside the capital, especially in the working class of northern England – areas that Johnson has successfully courted in the 2019 general election.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden acknowledged the results in London were ‘difficult’ but said the ‘more mixed picture’ elsewhere showed Labor lacked the momentum to win the next election general.
Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood argued the results showed Labor was building a solid base to return to power.
“Labour is advancing… taking control of key Conservative councils and winning on vital parliamentary battlegrounds across the country,” she said.
Results are yet to come from the rest of England, all of Scotland and Wales. Voters in Northern Ireland are electing a new 90-seat Assembly, with polls suggesting Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein could win the most seats and the premiership in a historic first.
The election campaign was dominated by rising food and fuel prices, which sent household bills soaring.
Opposition parties are calling on the government to do more to ease the cost of living crisis – driven by war in Ukraine, disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic aftershocks from Britain’s exit from the European Union. The centre-left Labor and the centrist Liberal Democrats are advocating a windfall tax on energy companies, which have posted record profits amid soaring oil and gas prices.
Johnson’s Tory government says taxing big companies like Shell and BP would discourage much-needed investment in renewable energy, which is key to meeting Britain’s climate commitments.
The election also comes after months of turmoil for Johnson, during which he became the first prime minister to be disciplined for breaking the law in office. He was fined 50 pounds ($62) by police for attending his own surprise birthday party in June 2020 when lockdown rules banned social gatherings.
Johnson apologized, but denies knowingly breaking the rules. He faces the possibility of more fines than other parties – police are investigating a dozen rallies – and a parliamentary inquiry into whether he misled lawmakers about his behavior.
The Prime Minister also faces discontent within his own party. A poor result could lead the Tories to try to replace Johnson with a less tarnished leader.
Dowden, the party chairman, acknowledged that there had been “difficult headlines over the past few months”.
“But I think compared to all of that, those kinds of challenges that you expect after 12 years in power, those are tough results, but we’ve made progress in a lot of places,” he told SkyNews.
“Labour is certainly not on the road to power and I think Boris Johnson has the leadership skills, in particular the energy and drive, that we need at this difficult time.”