By Associated Press
British Prime Minister Theresa May appeared on course for a sweeping election victory next month after her Conservatives made big gains in local elections at the expense of rivals on both the pro-EU left and the Euroskeptic right.
Ballots were counted Friday from contests for local councils in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England, as well as from mayoral competitions in several cities.
With almost all the results in, May’s party had gained control of 11 new councils, added more than 500 new councilors and taken a plum mayoral post in the Birmingham area of central England, once strong Labour Party territory.
Portraying herself as a rock of stability in turbulent times, May is urging voters to give the Conservatives a bigger majority in Parliament in the June 8 national election in order to strengthen Britain’s hand in exit talks with the European Union. Results from the local elections suggest the message is getting through.
John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the Conservatives were on course for their best local-election result in at least a decade, and possibly in a quarter century.
“I will not take anything for granted,” May insisted.
But Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said voters “are now seeing that what this country needs is a government with a full, working majority to negotiate a good, successful exit from the European Union and to build a stronger, fairer Britain.”
The main opposition Labour Party took a beating, shedding some 300 local councilors nationwide and suffering losses in long-time heartlands including industrial south Wales and northeast England.
Most dramatically, it lost ground in Scotland, where the Conservatives — long all-but-extinct there — made gains. The party even lost control of the city council in Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city and once the staunchest of Labour strongholds.
Labour did win mayoral contests in the northern English cities of Doncaster, Liverpool and Manchester, but lost the race in the West Midlands area around Birmingham to Conservative Andy Street by just 4,000 votes.
Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell acknowledged the party had suffered a tough night, but told ITV the results were not “the wipeout that people expected.” He insisted it is still “all to play for” in the national vote.
But the results will deepen the gloom of Labour members who believe their staunchly left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn — painted by the Conservatives as a high-taxing loose spender who is weak on security — is driving the party toward a resounding defeat on June 8.
Meanwhile, the centrist Liberal Democrats — the most firmly pro-EU of Britain’s major parties — failed to make the big gains they were hoping for in Thursday’s vote.
And the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, whose animosity to the EU helped drive Britain out of the bloc, was all but wiped out. UKIP lost all but one of the more than 100 council seats it held, as voters switched to the Conservatives now that UKIP’s main goal had been achieved.
UKIP deputy chairwoman Suzanne Evans acknowledged the party faces a “difficult dilemma.”
“We have got what we wanted, but unfortunately we have been in a sense the victims of our own success,” she told Sky News.