- The elections come at a critical juncture for the government, with U.K. households facing a cost-of-living crisis amid record rises in energy bills, inflation running at a 30-year high, and the Bank of England warning of a potential recession.
- Johnson remains mired in scandal after he and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak were found to have broken the law and fined in relation to gatherings held at 10 Downing Street.
LONDON — The U.K.'s ruling Conservative Party has lost a slew of seats in local elections across England, dealing a potential blow to embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The elections come at a critical juncture for the government, with U.K. households facing a cost-of-living crisis amid record rises in energy bills, inflation running at a 30-year high, and the Bank of England warning of a potential recession.
In late March, the government announced an urgent fuel tax cut in a bid to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis, but a 10% rise on National Insurance (a tax on earnings) came into effect in April, at the same time as the U.K.'s energy price cap soared 54% to accommodate rising oil and gas costs.
Meanwhile, Johnson remains mired in scandal after he, his wife Carrie and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak were found to have broken the law and fined in relation to gatherings held at 10 Downing Street — the prime minister's official residence — in violation of Covid lockdown rules.
The prime minister had repeatedly denied that any parties were held in Downing Street or nearby Whitehall government offices, but London Metropolitan Police has now handed down more than 50 fixed penalty notices, with more possibly to come as the Met investigates 12 gatherings.
Speaking to the BBC Friday, Johnson admitted that it had been a tough night for his party. "The big lesson, the message from voters about what they want us to do ... is to focus on the big issues that matter to them," he said.
The Conservatives have suffered losses across England in the results declared so far, after voting was held Thursday. This includes three symbolic seats lost to the main opposition Labour Party in London: Westminster, which had been under Conservative control since 1964; Wandsworth, since 1978; and Barnet, which Labour won for the first time.
Labour leader Keir Starmer lauded the results as a "turning point" for his party. But outside the capital, Labour's gains have been relatively modest, and the party relinquished its 10-year rule of Hull City Council, in East Yorkshire, to the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats have gained a total of 59 council seats as of late morning in the U.K., the most of any party, while the Green party has also performed well, with a net gain of 23 seats. Labour has gained 34 seats while the Conservatives have lost 122 seats so far.
"We've had some difficult results and you can see that in London. I would say, though, that we are mid-term, and it's quite a mixed picture, because if you look elsewhere, whether that's in Hartlepool, or Nuneaton, or Thurrock, we've actually made gains," Conservative Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden told BBC News on Friday. He added that the U.K. needs Johnson's "bold leadership."
However, other Conservative MPs and ousted councillors have highlighted large-scale desertions of the party's traditional voters due to outrage over the "partygate" scandal.
Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper told Sky News on Friday that the party was "earning back people's trust" under Starmer's leadership, after 2019 saw Labour suffer its worst general election defeat since 1935.
Vote counting is now underway in Scotland, where results are expected to be more unfavorable to the Conservatives, along with Wales and Northern Ireland, with results expected Friday evening or Saturday morning.