London: In a major boost to British Prime Minister Theresa May, her Conservative Party on Friday made huge gains in the local and mayoral polls which was being seen as a victory for her tough-talking Brexit stance and a vindication of her move to call a general election next month.
The local elections on Thursday were widely seen as a sign of things to come in the June 8 snap poll, announced suddenly by May last month.
The Tories gained over the Opposition Labour party in many of the council seats and confirmed pre-poll forecasts of a Labour battering, largely blamed on the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The Liberal Democrats’ results have been mixed, with some gains and some losses.
But the biggest losers have been the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is set to be completely annihilated after losing every local seat it had under its control.
A total of 4,851 council seats were up for grabs in 88 councils — all of those in Scotland and Wales — and 34 in England, five weeks before the general election. Around 60 of the 88 councils in England, Wales and Scotland have already declared their final results and in the latest count, the Conservatives had a net gain of 346 councillors, Labour were down to 187 and the Liberal Democrats were reeling at 27.
UKIP has been dealt the biggest blow with a loss of 63 councillors.
The Conservative candidate for the new “metro mayor” post for the West of England, Tim Bowles, beat Labour’s Lesley Mansell by 51.6 per cent to 48.4 percent vote, registering another major win for the Tories.
The Tories have gained massive ground from the UKIP and the Labour party but the party has chosen to strike a note of caution to prevent its prospective MPs becoming too complacent in the general election campaign.
“We can’t assume that what happens in local elections will automatically be replicated in general elections,” said Tory minister Brandon Lewis.
“There’s a long way to go, there’s a lot of work to do, we have got to work for every vote out there to make sure that we return Theresa May with a clear mandate on June 8,” he said.
The Labour party sought to play down its drubbing with the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, claiming the party had “all to play for” in the general election.
“These elections are a challenging set of contests held in unique circumstances. They’re individual contests being fought in very differing situations, from local council-level, issue-driven campaigns up to large mayoral fights with some well-known politicians,” a Labour party spokesperson said.
The results are being described as a bellwether of voting trends for the general election, with May set to sweep to victory.
“It looks as if we have made so far some encouraging gains…but it’s very early days yet. Most of these councils, the vast majority, are still to count. We’ll have to wait and see what the final results are — and overall, of course, the turnout is much lower than you get in a general election,” said UK defence secretary Michael Fallon, playing down the Conservative gains.
While the complete tally is pending, the broad trends were clear, with the UKIP confirmed as having suffered the maximum casualties in the contest. The anti-EU party has struggled to find a footing and has been facing an existential crisis since the referendum last year in favour of Brexit.
“This is a temporary glitch for us,”claimed Nick Smith, the UKIP’s chairman in Lincolnshire region. But political pundits have already predicted the beginning of the end for the far-right phenomenon after Nigel Farage had stepped down as leader to make way for Paul Nuttall, who has so far failed to make any mark with the electorate andlost heavily when he recently attempted to contest a by-election in Stoke.
Nuttall claimed the party, which did well in 2013 council elections and won 3.8 million votes in the 2015 general election, was a “victim of its own success”. Former UKIP leadership contender Steven Woolfe said the party’s influence was “at an end”, while its former MP Douglas Carswell, who recently resigned from the party, said UKIP “was over”.