January 24, 2018
Friday, May 12, 2017

UK Conservatives scores biggest local election win in decades

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May talks to staff in a tea room at British Steel as she campaigns in North Lincolnshire.

Prime Minister May handed boost heading into June 8 general election

LONDON — Theresa May’s Conservative Party cruised to a landslide win last week in local voting, in a foretaste of a potential victory in the United Kingdom’s approaching June 8 general election that would give the prime minister a domestic boost going into Brexit talks.

In all, the Tories won almost 1,800 of the 4,851 council seats being contested in England, Scotland and Wales — a net gain of more than 500, according to a BBC tally — and gained overall control of 11 counties and districts. The main opposition Labour Party had just over 1,000 seats, a net loss of 340, and lost control of five councils.

Most surprisingly, the Tories won both the election for the first regional mayor in Tees Valley in northeast England, a traditional Labour area, and the contest in the West of England, centred on Bristol. They profited from the near-annihilation of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which was created to fight for Brexit. The BBC projected the national vote share at 38 percent for the Tories and 27 percent for Labour, whose leader Jeremy Corbyn failed to inspire supporters.

May said in Brentford, west London — a Labour district in her sights — that “we have taken votes from across the whole of the political spectrum.”

“Theresa May’s consolidation of the Brexit vote is a quite astonishing success,” said Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester. “They’re gaining voters who are excited about Brexit, and not losing voters who aren’t.”

Painting the EU as a bogeyman and making the election about Brexit has been an effective way to drum up support among vote-weary Britons given that Corbyn is a deeply unpopular political figure. Ensuring a strong turnout is key to her plan to enlarge her parliamentary majority from the current 17 seats.

The general election “will be won on the day by real people going out and casting real votes,” she told reporters in Brentford, west London, a district the Tories are targetting.

She warned that there are “bureaucrats in Europe who are questioning our resolve to get the right deal.”

Labour lost about a fifth of its seats in its heartland of Wales as well as overall control of the city of Glasgow in Scotland. While none of this bodes well for Corbyn, it’s worth bearing in mind that turnout is lower in local elections and votes weren’t being held in areas including London, which voted to remain in the EU and traditionally leans toward Labour.

“It could be the worst projected national share by an opposition party since the BBC started producing them in 1982,” Ford said. “For an opposition party to be polling in the high 20s in local elections is dismal. And look at where they’re losing: they’re losing everywhere.”

Corbyn’s allies insisted there were positive signs among the defeats. The results have been “tough” for Labour but not the “wipe-out” some polls were predicting, said the party’s shadow chancellor of the exchequer, John McDonnell. “We are winning the argument on policy and we are beginning to change attitudes towards Jeremy Corbyn as well,” he told Sky News.

The Liberal Democrats, who are trying to use their opposition to Brexit to appeal to voters angry at the referendum result, showed no signs of a breakthrough. They had about 420 seats, a net loss of more than 30. The Scottish National Party also suffered losses to the Tories in Scotland and lost control of the council in the fourth-largest city, Dundee.

Labour manifesto leak

Labour will pledge to nationalise energy, rail and mail services, media reports said Wednesday, citing a leaked copy of the opposition party’s draft election manifesto.

According to reports, Labour will fund its spending commitments through a programme of increased tax and £250 billion (US$323.18 billion) of borrowing over the next decade.

The draft manifesto, which was to be debated and finalised by party officials yesterday, intends to hike income tax for people earning more than 80,000 pounds a year, according to the report. It was due to be revealed next week.

The 43-page document also says Labour will ensure that 60 percent of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030.

The party had said that middle- and low-income earners would not face tax hikes to fund its spending plans if it wins next month’s election, with the burden falling instead on the top five percent of earners and big business.

— Herald with Bloomberg, Reuters

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