Local elections: PM faces backlash as Tories lose more than 1,200 councillors | Politics News
Voters have forced out more than 1,200 Conservative councillors during a bruising round of local elections in England – causing the Tories to lose control of 47 local authorities.
Theresa May faced anger from her own party as the results became clear on Friday, with the prime minister admitting the outcome was “very difficult” for the Tories.
She was confronted by a heckler as she began speaking at the Conservatives’ Welsh conference, with one aggrieved party member shouting: “Why don’t you resign? We don’t want you.”
The election results were also disappointing for Labour after Jeremy Corbyn failed to make the inroads that might have been expected of an opposition leader eyeing up 10 Downing Street.
With seven local authorities in England left to declare, Labour has lost six councils and 84 seats.
The Liberal Democrats were the big winners from Thursday’s vote – gaining 11 councils and 644 councillors. The Greens and independent candidates also enjoyed success.
Sir Vince Cable’s party gave the strongest sign yet they are recovering at a local level from their near-wipeout in 2015.
Over in Northern Ireland, 819 candidates have been standing for 462 seats across 11 council areas.
The Democratic Unionist Party’s first openly gay election candidate has been elected, while voters in Antrim and Newtonabbey re-elected a former DUP mayor despite his recent conviction for drink-driving.
Following on from the backlash at the polls in England, Mrs May and Mr Corbyn reaffirmed their commitment to delivering Brexit.
Both acknowledged that the impasse in parliament over the referendum result had an impact on their fortunes.
The prime minister told Sky News: “I’m sorry that good councillors have lost their seats through no fault of their own.
“These were always going to be difficult elections for us, nine years into a government, and there’s the added dimension of having not got the Brexit deal over the line.”
Mrs May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to divert attention to Labour’s results – insisting that the opposition’s “significant losses” were evidence that voters are frustrated with both main parties.
The Labour leader said there were a “number of reasons” why Labour did not do as well as usual in its traditional heartlands, and admitted that Brexit was one of them.
Mr Corbyn explained: “Some of them were local factors and some of them were people probably disagreeing with both parties on attitudes towards the EU.
“Our policy is that we are the only party that seeks to appeal to people however they voted in 2016 and to ensure that we try to defend jobs and working conditions in this country.”
Labour has also suffered from infighting – with Blackadder star Sir Tony Robinson sensationally announcing he has quit the party because of its “continued duplicity on Brexit”, poor handling of the antisemitism row and “complete s***” leadership.
Mrs May and Mr Corbyn have stressed that cross-party talks will continue in a bid to reach an agreement on a Brexit deal, but shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has suggested that the government appeared unwilling to compromise during recent discussions.
Ms Thornberry told Sky News that Labour would back a second referendum if there was no breakthrough, and joined Mr Corbyn in reiterating her desire for a general election.
“We need to go back to the people because it can’t go on like this,” she added.
Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable said the results – from 248 councils in England – were evidence that public opinion on Brexit had indeed shifted since the referendum in June 2016.
His party gained hundreds of new councillors across Leave and Remain-voting areas – by far the largest gains of a single party – and the Green Party also enjoyed its best ever local election results.
Sir Vince said: “Voters have sent a clear message that they no longer have confidence in the Conservatives, but they are also refusing to reward Labour while the party prevaricates on the big issue of the day: Brexit.”
He also declared: “Three-party politics is back.”
Polling stations are expected to open yet again for the European elections on 23 May, when two new parties will also enter the fray: Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, and the pro-EU Change UK.
UKIP, Mr Farage’s former home, lost more than 140 council seats on Thursday – although spoiled ballot papers suggested that the Brexit Party would have enjoyed some support if it had participated in the local elections.