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LONDON — Britain heads to the polls Thursday in local elections that could be career-ending for Boris Johnson.
With a row over lockdown-breaching parties in government offices engulfing his administration over the last few months, Conservative MPs have privately pinned the prime minister’s future on the results of the local votes.
That — combined with a looming by-election and the prospect of more police fines for breaking coronavirus rules in the Partygate saga — means he faces a perilous few months ahead.
If the Conservatives take a beating, the likelihood of enough Tory MPs sending in no-confidence letters to trigger a vote in Johnson’s leadership this summer increases sharply.
But if the party’s losses are limited, many Conservative MPs and activists will conclude that the scandals have failed to dent Johnson’s electability.
Both the Conservatives and Labour are aggressively managing expectations of their performance on Thursday.
The Tories are starting from a low base. A majority of this year’s contests are in Labour territory, particularly in London where every single councillor seat is up for election.
More than 4,350 local councillors will be elected in seats that were last contested in 2018, when Labour posted its best performance at local level since 2012.
Labour is fielding a total of 5,324 candidates against the Conservatives’ 5,273, while the Liberal Democrats are putting up 3,623. The Greens have 2,557 candidates in play, the Scottish National Party 555 and Plaid Cymru 525.
The battle in Scotland is effectively over who will become the biggest party in favor of keeping the country in the United Kingdom, with Labour hoping to overtake the Tories as the main opposition to the Scottish National Party in local government. The strength of the dominant SNP’s performance will be watched to gauge pro-Scottish independence feeling. Every council in Scotland is being contested.
In Wales, every seat is up for grabs. Labour strategists expect to fare better there than in England, although the votes may indicate the extent to which Conservative inroads at the last nationwide general election are part of a longer-term success story.
The most closely-watched contest of all will be in Northern Ireland, where voters are electing a new assembly, and the republican Sinn Fein — in favor of a united Ireland — could become the biggest party for the first time.
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Conservatives: what to watch
Governing parties don’t tend to do well in mid-term local elections.
But the Conservatives defied that trend on “Super Thursday” last year, when they thrashed Labour in what’s known as the Red Wall — areas previously held by Labour but swept up by Johnson’s Tories at the general election in 2019.
Tory strategists are quietly confident that they will perform comparatively well in northern Brexit-voting parts of the country once again, where anecdotally the Partygate scandal appears to have done less damage to Johnson’s popularity.
But Conservative officials say that the picture in central London and its surrounding commuter belt is looking bleak. Labour is popular among urban voters and its position is strengthening.
Tories predict that Wandsworth — often described as the flagship Conservative council in London and a favorite of legendary Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — is the likeliest to fall into Labour control. Labour made inroads there in both 2014 and 2018.
Central London councils in Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, both of which have been Tory-run since their creation, are also at risk. Barnet, a council in a traditionally Tory-Labour marginal area of north London, could also go into Labour control.
So the story of the night may once again be the political realignment that has led the Conservatives to success in former industrial and traditionally working-class parts of England, coupled with a collapse in the Tories’ vote in metropolitan areas.
Labour: what to watch
Labour strategists view this set of locals as an early test of their support in parts of the country they need to win at the next general election.
But given that the party is starting from a high watermark at these elections because of their 2018 results, strategists insist they do not expect to see significant change across the board.
A strong performance for the party in London is already priced in and could see Labour chalk up major wins in aforementioned councils such as Wandsworth that have been Tory-controlled for decades. Taking control of Hillingdon, a council in west London that includes Boris Johnson’s own parliamentary constituency, would be a major coup.
Labour is also likely to have a good night in Wales and Scotland. Party officials expect a strong performance in Welsh councils and are hopeful of coming second in Scotland, where the party used to be dominant but has slipped behind both the SNP and Tories in recent years.
Should the party perform poorly in those Red Wall areas of England — where leader Keir Starmer has made it a priority to reverse Tory gains made in 2019 — it will have a difficult time telling a good story about the results.
Perhaps the most closely watched contest in the north of England will be in Wakefield, where a third of councillors are up for election.
These results will indicate how well Labour is set to fare in the upcoming Wakefield by-election, triggered by the resignation of a Tory MP convicted of sexual assault. That vote is being seen by party insiders as a key test of Starmer’s leadership.
Liberal Democrats: what to watch
For the Liberal Democrats this is a chance to drive back the Conservatives from their traditional strongholds in rural and suburban areas of England.
Activists canvassing ahead of these elections say that the Partygate saga has infuriated a chunk of the Tory voter base in traditionally affluent parts of the country where the Lib Dems are the best-placed challengers.
Johnson has already lost two safe Tory seats to the Lib Dems in by-elections this parliament. Key marginals where leader Ed Davey’s party could make significant progress include Wokingham, St Albans and Sutton.
How to spot a winner
It will be a great night for Labour if the party wins control of at least two London councils from the Conservatives — with Wandsworth, Kensington and Chelsea, Barnet, and Westminster all likely targets — and comes second in Scotland while resisting major losses in the north of England.
For the Tories, the main task will be to fend off Labour’s attack in London as far as possible while making progress in Red Wall areas. Achieving this would demonstrate that, despite the damage, wrought to his poll ratings by Partygate, Johnson retains popularity among new Conservative voters.
Taking control of councils will be a harder ask for the Lib Dems, but they will want to be making decent seat gains in the final reckoning. Their performance in the contest for the new unitary Somerset Council will be watched closely. Strong signs of a rebound in the south-west of England will be good news for them ahead of the upcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election (prompted by another Conservative scandal).
Meanwhile in Northern Ireland
Arguably the biggest story of the elections will be who voters decide to return to the 90-strong Northern Ireland Assembly — the devolved administration set up in 1998 as one of the conditions of the Good Friday Agreement peace deal. It has responsibility for health, social care, housing, education, justice and policing and social security.
There are 18 constituencies, each with five members of the legislative assembly or MLAs. They are elected using the single transferable vote (STV), which ranks candidates by preference. MLAs must then designate themselves as either unionists, nationalists or other.
Forming the 10-strong ruling executive is where it gets complicated. Under the power-sharing agreement, the first minister and deputy first minister have the same powers and are required to come from different political designations. The first minister cannot take office unless a deputy first minister is also nominated.
The largest party is automatically entitled to the position of first minister regardless of whether they were the largest party in the largest designation. The position of deputy first minister goes to either the largest party in the largest designation if it wasn’t the largest party overall, or the largest party in the second-largest designation.
If the polls are borne out, Sinn Féin, the republican party committed to a united Ireland, is on course to become the largest party for the first time and would be entitled to nominate the first minister. This would displace the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from a position it has occupied for almost 20 years.
If Sinn Féin does come out on top, all eyes turn to the DUP. If they are still the biggest unionist party, as looks likely, attention will focus on whether they will nominate a deputy first minister to get the executive up and running.
It will also be worth watching closely to see what happens to the non-aligned vote, with the centrist Alliance Party polling well. The rules for choosing the first and deputy first minister currently make it difficult for someone from a non-aligned party to become deputy first minister, and a strong showing for Alliance would likely prompt calls for reform.
Polls close at 10 p.m. on Thursday and the first results will start rolling in shortly afterward at midnight.
Early indications about how well Labour’s vote is holding up in its northern strongholds will come from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, South Tyneside and Wigan. The party will hope to make inroads in Conservative-run Bolton in Greater Manchester.
From 2 a.m. results are expected from Sunderland where Labour faces a challenge from the Tories and Liberal Democrats in a council it has run since 1973. Labour and the Tories are going head to head in Hartlepool and Peterborough.
By 3 a.m. the results should be coming in from Westminster council in London, one of Labour’s most ambitious targets in the English capital.
At 4 a.m. look out for announcements from Dudley and Nuneaton and Bedworth, both Tory-run councils where Labour is hoping to make gains.
Wandsworth council in London is expected to declare at 5 a.m. and Barnet at 7 a.m., by which point all overnight results should be in.
The counts in Wales and Scotland will begin a little later, at 9 a.m. on Friday, with all councils expected to be declared by 5:30 p.m. in Scotland and 8 p.m. in Wales.
There is likely to be a pause in English results until around noon when results will start coming in again, with Newcastle-under-Lyme and Wakefield both expected in the afternoon.
Many of the key Lib Dem targets including Somerset and West Oxfordshire are not expected to report their results until Friday. The results in Northern Ireland should become clear by Friday evening.
How to watch
BBC: Local election coverage on BBC1 will start at 11:30 p.m. with Huw Edwards and Laura Kuenssberg carrying viewers through to breakfast at 6 a.m.
Pollster John Curtice will be on hand to provide snap analysis and Reeta Chakrabarti will be doing the touchscreen graphics as results come in. The BBC News channel will have election coverage presented by Jo Coburn, Lewis Goodall and Vicki Young.
ITV: No dedicated program for the elections — but the channel will have teams at counts across the country.
Sky: A special overnight Vote 2022 results program will begin on Sky News from 11 p.m. on Thursday with Jonathan Samuels, Sam Coates and more covering the results through to 5 a.m. on Friday. As results start to come in again, Sophy Ridge will present day two of Sky’s results program from 11 a.m. Friday with coverage and analysis of results with a particular focus on Northern Ireland in the evening.
LBC: Iain Dale will be live on air as the polls close and will present an eight-hour program that will see him joined by commentators and analysts. On Friday morning, Nick Ferrari will pick up the baton for a special extended edition of Nick Ferrari at Breakfast from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Times Radio: Carole Walker will be broadcasting as polls close with Matt Chorley taking over at 1 a.m., and Calum Macdonald jumping in at 3 a.m. Chorley will be back on air at 10 a.m. after Times Radio Breakfast. Political correspondent Charlotte Ivers will be at crucial counts through the night.
https://www.politico.eu/article/watch-uk-local-elections-results-pro/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication How to watch the UK’s local elections like a pro – POLITICO