LONDON: Theresa May’s Conservatives made significant gains on Friday in Britain’s local elections, handing the prime minister a boost ahead of next month’s Brexit-dominated parliamentary polls.
Results, albeit on low turnouts, showed the governing Conservatives dealing heavy blows to the main opposition Labour Party and all but wiping out the anti-EU, anti-mass immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Despite the thumping results, May said there was no room for complacency ahead of the June 8 general election and the EU divorce negotiations to come afterwards.
“It’s encouraging that we’ve won support across the whole of the UK but I will not take anything for granted and neither will the team I lead, because there is too much at stake,” she said.
“This is not about who wins and who loses in the local elections: it is about continuing to fight for the best Brexit deal.
“Despite the evident will of the British people, we have bureaucrats in Europe who are questioning our resolve to get the right deal.
“I will continue my efforts to earn the support of you, the people.” May’s decision to call an early general election ensured her own record and Brexit would be on voters’ minds when they went to the polls on Thursday to choose nearly 5,000 new local councillors.
The prime minister lashed out at Brussels on the eve of the elections, but EU president Donald Tusk warned against letting “emotions get out of hand” before formal Brexit negotiations get under way.
However, May’s tough-talking approach to Brexit appears to have translated into votes.
With 82 of the 88 local authorities declared, the Conservatives had 1,776 seats, a net gain of 510, according to the Press Association news agency.
Labour had 954 seats — a net loss of 290 — while the smaller, pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who had been hoping to pick up some momentum ahead of June’s parliamentary election, had 388 seats, a net loss of 32.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) were on 359 seats, a net gain of 11.
Meanwhile UKIP had only one seat, a net loss of 109, falling “victim to its own success”, according to party leader Paul Nuttall.
Nuttall, who is hoping to secure a seat in parliament next month, put the anti-Brussels party’s electoral woes down to the Conservatives’ tough stance on Brexit.
“If the price of Britain leaving the EU is a Tory advance after taking up this patriotic cause, then it is a price UKIP is prepared to pay,” he said.
Labour suffered a big blow in Glasgow, one of its traditional heartlands, where it lost overall control of the city council.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2017