Britain's two main parties get Brexit bashing in local elections

Prime Minister Theresa May leaving after casting her vote on Thursday. She said the early results were a message from voters to deliver Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May leaving after casting her vote on Thursday. She said the early results were a message from voters to deliver Brexit. PHOTO: DPA

Conservative, Labour parties both lose local council seats - a sign of voters' frustrations

LONDON • English voters frustrated with the deadlock over Brexit have punished Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party in local elections, early results showed yesterday.

The results of Thursday's elections are another display of how Britain's 2016 ballot to leave the European Union has split voters beyond traditional party lines and are a first indication of the damage Brexit has done to the two big parties.

With just over half of the English local council vote results declared, the Conservative Party had lost 551 councillors and Labour had lost 73 councillors, according to a BBC tally.

The main beneficiary of the swing against the two main parties - which are in talks to try to break the impasse in the British Parliament over Brexit - was the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who had gained 354 councillors so far, and said they hoped to make further inroads during European Parliament elections on May 23.

Activists said the Liberal Democrats' clear message that Britain needed a second referendum to break the parliamentary deadlock over the country's future relationship with the EU had helped turn the tide.

"It just seems voters, period, saying: 'A plague on both your houses'," said Mr John Curtice, Britain's leading polling expert.

Smaller parties also gained in the local elections. The Greens, who also back a second Brexit referendum, gained 68 council seats, the partial results showed, and independent candidates won 251 seats.

Labour Party sources said it was always going to be a tough battle for their party in councils that traditionally favour the Conservatives.

Some Conservatives blamed the party's poor showing on the deadlock in Parliament, which has rejected Mrs May's Brexit deal thrice.

Mrs May told her party in Wales: "There was a simple message from yesterday's elections, to both us and the Labour Party: just get on and deliver Brexit."

The elections for more than 8,000 seats on councils responsible for day-to-day decisions also showed a frustration with local issues. But for Mrs May and many in Labour, the message was clear.

"So far (the) message from local elections (is) 'Brexit - sort it'," said Mr John McDonnell, Labour's finance policy chief.

"Message received," he added.

Britain was due to have left the EU on March 29, but Mrs May has been unable to get her deal approved by Parliament and is now seeking the support of Labour, led by socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

Talks next week are not expected to reach a breakthrough.

Many Conservatives also fear the newly launched Brexit Party of veteran anti-EU campaigner Nigel Farage.

The party did not contest the local polls but is expected to do well in the European elections.REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'Britain's two main parties get Brexit bashing in local elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe