The UK’s governing Conservatives on Friday faced crushing losses in local elections as voters in many parts of England turned against the party after a tumultuous year.
Among the 8,000 council seats up for election across England, the Conservatives looked set to lose as many as 1,000 compared with their standing before the elections. Such losses would match or exceed the most pessimistic projections.
In the early hours of the morning, Labour took control of south-west England’s Plymouth city council, which had previously been under no overall control. The Conservatives earlier lost overall control of two councils — Brentwood in Essex and Tamworth in Staffordshire.
Labour also took the position of elected mayor of Middlesbrough, with the party’s Chris Cooke winning over independent Andy Preston.
Gains were more evenly distributed than expected among the Conservatives’ opponents, going to Liberal Democrats and Greens as well as the Labour party.
Although there was no official confirmation, the Liberal Democrats said they were “confident” they had taken control of Windsor and Maidenhead council, an area that contains the solidly Conservative parliamentary constituency of former prime minister Theresa May.
By just before 5am, in all wards declared across England, Labour had gained 59 seats compared with its position immediately before the elections, while the Liberal Democrats had gained 18 and the Greens seven. Independents had lost 17 seats and the Conservatives had lost 67.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice wrote on the BBC website it was possible the Conservatives would reach the threshold of 1,000 seat losses but added the “spoils” were being more evenly divided than expected between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
“Labour will be disappointed that it looks as though their vote is simply on a par with their performance in last year’s local elections, although the Conservatives are still five points down on 12 months ago,” Curtice wrote.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham, told the BBC it was looking like a “fantastic night” for her party.
“We’re making gains across the country,” she said.
Labour shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said the results reflected how Sir Keir Starmer had transformed the party since becoming leader in April 2020.
“I think it shows how Keir Starmer has turned around the Labour party,” Phillipson said of the results. “We’re looking outwards to the country; we’re focusing on the issues that matter to the voters.”
The full picture from the results will not emerge for some hours. Most of the 230 councils that held elections will only start counting votes on Friday morning.
The Conservative party, in charge at the national level in Westminster, accepted they faced significant losses.
“This will be a tough night for the Conservatives,” the party said. “Any government which has been in power for 13 years is highly likely to lose seats.”
Veterans minister Johnny Mercer, who represents Plymouth Moor View, said it had been a “terrible night” for the Conservatives.
The local elections are likely to be the last big test of public opinion at the ballot box before the general election, due by January 2025 at the latest but likely to take place several months earlier. Elections for the wards being contested on Thursday were last held in 2019, when the Conservatives under Theresa May and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn did poorly.
Curtice has said Labour needs a double-digit vote-share lead in the elections to be sure of securing a parliamentary majority at the general election.
Labour is hoping to show it can defeat the Conservatives in the “red wall” of mainly working-class seats in northern England that Boris Johnson when prime minister captured for his Conservative party.
Data and graphics by Oliver Hawkins, Ella Hollowood and Martin Stabe