2022 Elections: Sir Keir Starmer says Labour is “back on track” after making local council gains from Tories

Published by Scott Challinor on May 7th 2022, 12:00pm

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that the party has reached a “turning point” and is “back on track” toward general election success after making gains from the Conservatives in the local elections.

The Tories sustained losses in major London councils, with many of those seats falling to Labour.

With all of England's 146 local authorities up for election having declared, the Conservatives have lost 336 council seats across the country to hold a total of 1,078.

Among the Conservative losses is a historic shift in the control of Wandsworth Council in south London, a local authority which has been Conservative controlled since 1978 and now flips to Labour.

The loss of Wandsworth is among 10 local councils of which the Tories have lost control, while Labour have gained control of three.

Sir Keir, whose party has gained 22 councillors to hold a total of 2,265 seats, said: “This is a big turning point... From the depths of the 2019 general election, we're back on track.

“We've sent a message to the prime minister: Britain deserves better.”

However, Conservative party chairman, Oliver Dowden, has said that the Labour party still lacks the “momentum to form the next government” after making only modest gains outside the capital.

Dowden and his colleagues had gone into the local elections expecting to sustain losses in the wake of the Partygate row and cost-of-living crisis, and he said that some of the “difficult results” that the party were having to weather were being seen in London.

While Labour has enjoyed success in the capital by taking Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet councils from the Tories, the governing party has held majorities in northern England and in Redditch and Dudley in the West Midlands, albeit with reduced seats.

Meanwhile, Labour has managed to maintain control of some councils with reduced majorities in some of its heartlands, including Coventry, Wolverhampton and Salford.

While Tory losses have thus far been less severe than some within the party expected, prime minister Boris Johnson has been met with criticism by some of his colleagues.

John Mallinson, the Tory leader of Carlisle City Council, said that Johnson “bears a lot of responsibility” for Conservative losses and the party must consider if he is the right man to lead them into the next general election.

Mallinson said: “I think if things remain the same, we'll pay for it. The cost-of-living crisis is weighing very heavily on people's minds, and I have to say that issues like Partygate made it increasingly difficult to focus people's minds on local issues.”

Tory MP David Simmonds also said that the PM had “difficult questions” to answer, after hearing from voters that people were “broadly positive about the government’s policies” but were “not happy about what they have been hearing about Partygate.”

Boris Johnson himself conceded that it has been a "tough night in some parts of the country" for the Conservatives amid a "mixed set of results", with the party on the other hand having made "remarkable gains in places that haven't voted Conservative for a long time, if ever."

While Johnson took personal responsibility for the Tory losses, he insisted that the overarching message from the public was to "focus on the big issues that matter to them."

He added that doing that would involve following through with the existing levelling-up agenda, increasing the number of nurses and police officers and shoring up the UK's energy security to tackle rising bills.

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats have performed strongly, buoyed by a significant gain of 193 councillors to total 712 seats. A major feat for the party was its victory in Kingston-upon-Hull which saw it take control of Hull City Council from Labour, a result that party leader Sir Ed Davey hailed as “very promising”.

Sir Ed said: “There is now a real picture emerging across the country, particularly in areas held by the Conservatives, that the Lib Dems are the real challengers.”

It was also a chastening night for the Tories in Scotland and Wales, where seats in all 32 and 22 of their local authorities, respectively, were up for grabs.

In Scotland, the SNP cruised to another election triumph with 453 councillors secured and having made a gain of 22 after all local authorities had declared their results. The Scottish Conservatives sustained heavy losses of 63 seats to finish up with 214 council members in total, behind Scottish Labour who finished second in the election with 282 councillors and a gain of 20.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, pinned the blame on the Partygate scandal for what he called the party’s “very disappointing” performance north of the border. He did, however, stop short of calling for the prime minister to resign.

Ross said: “From people I've spoken to it's very clear, Partygate was the dominating issue here.

"Where we could get the focus on local issues like here in Moray, people have responded to that.

"But where there have been national issues that dominated, Partygate has struck through and we have suffered as a result of that."

In Wales, Welsh Labour eased to victory with a gain of 66 to hold 526 total seats, while the Welsh Conservatives lost 86 to hold 111 seats - seeing them finish well back in fourth

316 council seats in Wales went to independent candidates, while Plaid Cymru has made a loss of six seats to finish on 202. The Welsh Lib Dems have gained 10 council seats but finished fifth in the reckoning with a total of 69 councillors.

Across the Irish Sea, history was made in the Northern Ireland assembly election as Sinn Féin became the largest party at Stormont for the very first time.

It is the first time that a nationalist party has held the most seats at the legislative assembly since Northern Ireland was formed in 1921, with Sinn Féin taking 27 seats compared to the 25 held by the DUP.

Sinn Féin's vice president, Michelle O'Neill, is now entitled to become the first nationalist first minister of the country, following an election which she herself described as a "defining moment for our politics and for our people".

She added: "Today ushers in a new era which I believe presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality and on the basis of social justice."

Elsewhere, the Alliance party picked up 17 MLAs, doubling its return in 2017, while the UUP lost one seat to return nine MLAs, and the SDLP suffered a loss of 12 MLAs to eight compared to the last election.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Authored By

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
May 7th 2022, 12:00pm

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