Theresa May's conservatives face big losses in UK local elections

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons in London, on May 1, 2019.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons in London, on May 1, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party faces big losses in local elections on Thursday (May 2) as voters register a protest against her handling of Brexit.

More than 8,000 council seats are up for grabs in mainly rural parts of England. Not all local votes are held at the same time, and this year's batch are predominantly Conservative-held, making it "target practice on Tory territory", according to Mr Robert Hayward, a Tory lord known for his electoral number-crunching.

"It's going to be a really difficult night," influential Conservative backbench lawmaker Nicky Morgan said late on Wednesday in an interview on ITV's Peston show.

"Anybody who's been on the doorstep recently will know that the national politics is having a difficult impact (on local politics)."

Electoral analysts including Mr Hayward predict the Tories will lose 400 to 800 seats, with the Liberal Democrats, the traditional third party of British politics, likely to be the main beneficiaries, and the main opposition Labour Party also gaining seats.

DOWNPLAYING BREXIT

To be sure, the Conservatives are starting from a high bar. The equivalent elections four years ago coincided with the general election won by Mrs May's Tory predecessor David Cameron, with an unexpected majority.

Then, the Tories gained seats - unusual for a party that had been in government for five years. It's more normal for governing parties to lose seats in local elections as voters register a protest.

 
 
 

This time around, there's no national vote to boost turnout, and Mrs May's failure to get a Brexit deal through Parliament is likely to weigh on her party's prospects.

Tories this week have been trying to downplay the importance of Brexit in the local polls, saying they should be about local issues, and that councillors shouldn't be punished because of the state of national politics.

Adding to the Tories' woes, Mrs May on Wednesday sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson over the leak of details from a meeting of Britain's National Security Council, something he denies.

Mr Hayward predicts the Tories will lose 800 seats, with the Liberal Democrats gaining 500 and Labour 300.

Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm, with results expected to start coming in after midnight, and continue until late on Friday or early on Saturday.