Super Thursday for UK political parties

Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to (from far left) Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage.
Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon (above), London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to (from far left) Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage.
Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan (above) and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to (from far left) Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage.
Local elections in Britain are expected to bring good news to Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and UK Independence Party head Nigel Farage (above).PHOTOS: REUTERS
Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

Ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour unlikely to walk away with all the spoils

Britain goes to the polls today in the biggest set of ballots outside of a general election in many years.

These include elections to the Scottish Parliament, as well as all local authorities throughout England, while voters in London elect a new mayor. And the chances are high that neither the ruling Conservatives nor the opposition Labour will be able to claim total triumph on this "Super Thursday".

Politically, the most important ballot is in Scotland, where Labour is desperate to regain the dominance it lost in 2007, when, for the first time ever, it was overtaken by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Since then the movement dedicated to Scotland's independence from the UK has only widened its electoral lead.

Last year's election of Mr Jeremy Corbyn as party leader was meant to improve Labour's chances in Scotland for although his far-left leanings are controversial in England, they were seen to be more appealing to ordinary Scots who are generally poorer than the English and tend to vote for left-leaning parties in greater numbers.

But as a quintessential English politician espousing left-wing causes dear to some of the English electorate, Mr Corbyn made almost no impact on the Scots. Opinion polls indicate that the SNP, run by Mrs Nicola Sturgeon, a feisty politician with a huge personal appeal, will win by a landslide, scooping 69 out of the 129 seats in Scotland's regional Parliament; Labour would be lucky to come in a distant second with 23 seats, a net loss of 14 seats in comparison to the last Scottish ballot of 2011.

Chances are high that Labour's local elections vote may slump to the lowest in two decades, and that will be hailed as a triumph for Prime Minister David Cameron, who will be able to deflect criticism for his anticipated loss of London. Having been in power for the past six years, the Conservatives will hail any consolidation of their local vote as an achievement.

That will be a disaster for Labour, which needs the bulk of Scotland's votes if it is to stand any chance of toppling Prime Minister David Cameron's ruling Conservatives at a future British-wide general election. Mr Corbyn may face an even bigger humiliation if the Conservatives, who have always trailed Labour in Scotland, manage to overtake it today. And that looks like a distinct possibility.

"The race for the second place in Scotland is now officially too close to call," says Professor John Curtice of Scotland's Strathclyde University, a noted local pollster.

Labour may get some consolation in London, where Mr Sadiq Khan, its candidate for mayor, is running well ahead of his Conservative opponent Zac Goldsmith, and appears to be on course to become the British capital's first Muslim leader.

  • Probable big winners

  • •Mrs Nicola Sturgeon and her Scottish National Party, which is seeking a referendum on independence from the UK, looks set for a landslide in Scotland, dealing a blow to the Labour Party which is desperate to regain the dominance it lost there in 2007.

    In fact, opinion polls indicate that the Conservatives may come in second and overtake Labour for the first time.

    •Labour's candidate for London mayor, Mr Sadiq Khan, appears on course to become the British capital's first Muslim leader. White Britons may now make up less than half of the city's residents, and Mr Khan has also been helped by the lacklustre campaign run by his centre-right opponent.

    All opinion polls indicate that his electoral advantage is large enough to weather last-minute swings.

    •Mr Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party, a movement dedicated to taking Britain out of the European Union, could make deep inroads in Wales.

    Opinion polls predict that the party may improve on the 13 per cent of the vote it won in Wales at last year's general election.

Mr Khan's humble origins - son of a Pakistani bus driver - and subsequent career (human rights lawyer, followed by a meteoric political rise) appeal to an ethnically diverse London electorate where white Britons may now account for less than half of the residents. Mr Khan is also helped by the fact that Mr Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire, ran a lacklustre campaign.

But Mr Khan's triumph is not a certainty: His party is embroiled in a scandal over alleged anti-Semitic statements by some members, and racial politics may still work against him, with some non-Muslim Indians and the million-strong East European migrants in the city reluctant to support him. Still, polls indicate he will likely prevail.

And that should provide Mr Corbyn with at least one crumb of comfort, for elsewhere in England where no fewer than 2,700 local councillors are up for election, Labour is likely to fare badly; the only question is how many seats it will lose today.

Chances are high that Labour's local elections vote may slump to the lowest in two decades, and that will be hailed as a triumph for Mr Cameron, who will be able to deflect criticism over his anticipated loss of London. Having been in power for the past six years, the Conservatives will hail any consolidation of their local vote as an achievement.

The real surprise today may come in Wales. Indications are that the UK Independence Party (Ukip), a movement dedicated to taking Britain out of the European Union, is set to make deep inroads in this otherwise small and politically sleepy part of the UK.

"There will be a breakthrough in Wales," boasted Ukip leader Nigel Farage. And opinion polls confirm his claim, predicting that the party may improve on the 13 per cent of the vote it captured in Wales during last year's general election.

Ukip's improved performance will be an unwelcome reminder that "Super Thursday" is in many respects just a dress rehearsal for Britain's biggest electoral battle: the referendum on the country's continued membership of the EU, scheduled for June 23.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Super Thursday for UK political parties'. Print Edition | Subscribe