Boris’s moment of truth: The local election battlegrounds that will deliver voters’ verdict on Partygate as polls open – but experts say Labour might NOT make big gains in England despite weeks of hype
- Millions of voters are going to the polls in local elections taking place across England, Wales, Scotland and NI
- Conservatives are nervously waiting to see the extent of the fallout from the PM’s Partygate controversy
- Boris Johnson could face a coup from fractious MPs if the results are particularly grim for government
Boris Johnson is bracing for a battering over Partygate today as voters go to the polls in local elections – with the outcome in key battlegrounds set to decide his fate.
The PM has cast his own ballot in Westminster as Tories anxiously wait to assess the damage from the Downing Street scandal, with thousands of councillors being elected across the country.
A dire set of results could be terminal for Mr Johnson, as MPs mull whether to launch a coup bit after he was fined for breaking lockdown rules.
However, there have been wildly varying predictions about how bad it will be. Some experts have suggested the Conservatives face losing 800 councillors with a hammering from Labour and the Lib Dems in the so-called ‘Blue Wall’ zones.
But others point out that Keir Starmer’s party performed very strongly in England in 2018, the last time most of the seats were contested.
Analysis for the New Statesman estimated that the Tories will be stripped of around 200, and most of the pain will be in Scotland, Wales and central London.
Strikingly Labour could actually go backwards in England outside of the capital – something that would be seized on by No10 as evidence that the Red Wall is holding up.
Mr Johnson looked in good spirits as he appeared at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster to cast his vote.
The premier smiled and wished reporters a good morning, but was otherwise tight-lipped.
A total of 200 local authorities are holding elections on May 5 – including every seat in Scotland, Wales and London
Boris Johnson cast his own ballot in Westminster today – accompanied by Dilyn the dog – as Tories anxiously wait to assess the damage from the Downing Street scandal
A council worker prepares a polling station in Kentish Town, north London. May 5, 2022
Sunrise over London and Westminster this morning on Local Council Election Day, May 5, 2022
But even the weather could make a difference on the outcome, with Britain bracing for glorious 21C sunshine
People around the UK will go to the polls on Thursday for the 2022 local elections.
Voters will be choosing local representatives in England, Scotland and Wales and there will also be an election for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
– When are the local elections?
The local elections take place on Thursday May 5.
Polling stations will open at 7am and close at 10pm.
When will the results be announced?
After polls close at 10pm, ballot boxes are taken from all the polling stations to local or regional counting centres where staff open them and start counting votes.
Once all the votes in an area are counted, the official in charge – the returning officer – takes the stage and announces the results.
The first batch of results is likely to be announced at midnight, with locations such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Essex, Greater Manchester and Bolton traditionally announced around this time. The latest is likely to be around 5pm on Saturday from Tower Hamlets.
What seats are up for grabs?
Local council elections are happening in England, but not in all areas. More than 4,000 councillors in 146 councils will be standing for election in major cities including Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs.
South Yorkshire will also be voting for a regional mayor and 1,000 parish councils will be electing around 10,000 councillors.
All 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 in Wales will be holding elections, with residents able to vote from the age of 16.
In Northern Ireland, voters will be electing 90 members, representing 18 constituencies, to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Millions of voters are casting ballots to select more than 4,000 councillors to run local services and facilities – but turnout is expected to be low as voters make clear their distaste at politicians in general.
Areas up for grabs include parts of the Red Wall such as Bury, as well as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs. Bolton, Peterborough, St Albans, Hillingdon, Wandsworth, Barnet and Worthing are among the crucial places being fought over.
Scotland and Wales are also being fought over, while in Northern Ireland a crucial set of assembly elections are taking place.
During a visit to Southampton Airport yesterday, Mr Johnson stressed that he was ‘absolutely confident’ he had the ‘right agenda for the country’.
Key results include true-blue London local authorities such as Wandsworth – under Conservative control for the past 44 years – Westminster and Barnet where pollsters YouGov believe Labour could cause an upset.
Sir Keir used his election rallying call to highlight the ‘constant drip-drip of sleaze and scandal’ in Mr Johnson’s administration.
As well as Partygate, the Tories have been hit with a string of controversies, including former Wakefield MP Imran Nasir Ahmad Khan being found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenage boy and veteran MP Neil Parish quitting after admitting he watched pornography in the Commons.
Sir Keir said the Government had broken the Covid regulations they had put in place ‘over and over again’ and said the Tory ‘failure’ to tackle the cost of living crisis had been a ‘disgrace’, along with the Chancellor’s decision to hike national insurance last month.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, Sir Keir said: ‘The British public shouldn’t have to put up with a Government that refuses to take seriously the very real issues facing you and your family.’
However, the Labour leader has also been struggling to fend off questions about his own alleged lockdown breach, amid claims he ordered £200 of curry for up to 30 aides at around 10pm during a visit to Durham last year.
He was pictured drinking beer at the gathering, but insists his team were working.
Tory polling expert Lord Hayward suggested that the party’s losses could be between 250 and 350.
He told MailOnline: ‘One of the things that is becoming clear is that people you talk to are stating anti-Boris, anti-London, anti-Westminster things.’
He said some candidates were branding themselves ‘local Conservatives’. In Hartlepool some hopefuls have added a note to their election literature asking people not to punish them for the behaviour of national politicians.
‘They are a growing number of people who are openly dissenting from Boris and trying to separate themselves from Boris,’ the peer said.
Lord Hayward also said postal votes seemed to be down by 7 per cent to 10 per cent compared to 2018 – suggesting that turnout will be low.
‘I don’t think this will benefit any one party but more that the electorate is saying ‘a plague on all your houses’,’ the peer said.
‘I do not expect a compensatory higher turnout on the day. More a case of a general decline in overall turnout.
‘In 2018 all local authorities in England averaged 34.7 per cent… My expectation is therefore that turnout will be hard pushed to reach 30 per cent in 2022.’
The first batch of results is likely to be announced at midnight, with locations such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Essex, Greater Manchester and Bolton traditionally announced around this time. The latest is likely to be around 5pm on Saturday from Tower Hamlets.
The councils in England that will receive most attention are in London, where Wandsworth could swing to Labour after 44 years of being in the hands of the Tories.
Recently, the area has been drifting to the left, with all three of the borough’s MPs now Labour, including Fleur Anderson in Putney, which was the only seat the party gained from the Tories in 2019.
The Conservatives also face challenges in Westminster, with their large majority diminishing over the years, and Barnet, where Labour’s poor performance in 2018 has been associated with concerns about Jeremy Corbyn among the Jewish community.
In Tower Hamlets, while there are unlikely to be too many upsets in the council elections, the race to become mayor will be one to watch, with controversial former mayor Lutfur Rahman standing again.
He was forced to step down after an election court found him guilty of corrupt and illegal practices, but he has faced no criminal prosecution.
In other parts of the country, Hartlepool will be hotly contested. The Conservatives won the parliamentary seat from Labour at a by-election in May 2021 and will have to demonstrate that the faith voters put in them was not misplaced. On the other hand, Labour will hope to start to rebuild its Red Wall.
In Bury, residents voted last year to keep Labour in control of its council, but during the 2019 general election they voted in two Tory MPs – one of these being Christian Wakeford, who has since defected to Labour.
In the South of England, Tories will be hoping not to give any more ground to the Liberal Democrats, after losing two safe Tory seats at by-elections in less than a year. Wokingham, St Albans and Sutton are some of the key Conservative-Liberal Democrat battlegrounds.
In the last election in 2017 in Scotland, the Conservative made big gains from Labour but failed to gain overall control, leaving most councils run by coalitions. The largest cities – Glasgow and Edinburgh – will be the ones to look out for.
Parties north of the border have urged voters to ‘send a message’ to the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood with their votes.
The cost-of-living crisis, prompted by an increase in fuel bills, national insurance contributions and inflation, has been top of the agenda for Scotland’s parties throughout the campaign.
But it is the impact of Partygate that could overshadow the chances of the Conservatives. Paired with the resignation of MP Neil Parish on Wednesday, after he admitted watching porn in the House of Commons, the situation at Westminster has dominated much of the campaign.
The Scottish Tories have also seen a downturn in fortunes in the polls over the past few months, dropping to third behind Scottish Labour in surveys done for Westminster, Holyrood and local council votes.
Polls open on Thursday at 7am and close at 10pm.
While overnight counts have been the norm, Scotland’s counting will take place on Friday, with final results expected in the early evening.
The Single Transferable Vote (STV) will be the electoral system employed during voting, where Scots will be asked to rank their preferred candidates by number, with one being the most preferred.
In the counting process, a formula is used to calculate the representatives elected to each ward in Scotland’s 32 local authority areas.
Despite the expectation that counting will be complete by Friday evening, the overall control of councils will not be known for some time.
The STV system rarely, if ever, provides an overall majority for any one party, meaning parties will be forced to run councils as a minority administration or enter into formal coalitions.
In Wales, attention will be on whether Labour can maintain its hold over Cardiff and the cities along the M4 corridor.
Meanwhile, tensions are high in Northern Ireland ahead of the Stormont Assembly elections as the Brexit protocol remains a divisive issue.
The Northern Ireland Executive collapsed in February and it is possible it will not be restored after the elections, particularly if Sinn Fein comes first.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are vying for the top spot in the Assembly which comes with the entitlement to nominate the next First Minister.
A unionist party has always been the biggest in the Assembly, and previously the Stormont Parliament, since the formation of the state in 1921.
This year a number of opinion polls have suggested that Sinn Fein will finish ahead of the DUP to become the first nationalist or republican party to come top.
While the office of the First and deputy First Minister is an equal one with joint power, the allocation of the titles is regarded as symbolically important.
A surge for the centre-ground Alliance Party has also been suggested in pre-election polls.
Sir Jeffrey has stated he is confident his party will win the election.
He is running for election to the Assembly in Lagan Valley, the constituency he represents in the House of Commons.
Oliver Dowden, the Tory Party chairman, looked to emphasise to the electorate the local choice they are making amid reports that some candidates had attempted to distance themselves from Westminster during campaigning.
In a statement to mark polls opening, Mr Dowden said: ‘The elections today are about one thing: who do you want running your council?
‘The choice couldn’t be starker – between Conservatives who keep council tax down and offer good services, or the opposition parties who waste money on political games and vanity projects.’
Education minister Michelle Donelan argued that Mr Johnson was ‘an asset, not a liability’ in elections.
Ms Donelan told Sky News she could ‘understand’ why councillor hopefuls wanted to show they are ‘going to be working hard on all of those things that impact daily life’ rather than focusing on what is happening in Westminster.
Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged that ‘all prime ministers will always be very conscious of the mood in their parliamentary party’, in response to speculation that poor results on Thursday could lead to more letters of no confidence from Tory MPs.
Some Conservative candidates have been adding notes to their literature appealing for voters to ignore the Partygate situation
The local election battlegrounds that could decide the PM’s fate
Here are some of the key contests to look out for in each region of England, as well as in Wales and Scotland.
Bury – estimated declaration time, 8.30pm Friday May 6
Bury has all of its 51 seats up for grabs this year. Labour has run the council since 2011 but has only a small majority and will want to improve its position in what is the party’s traditional heartland of Greater Manchester. Bury’s status in this year’s elections was reflected by the fact Sir Keir and Mr Johnson both visited the town during the campaign. (E)
Bolton – 12.30am Friday May 6
Bolton is another key test for Labour in Greater Manchester, but here it is hoping to take back control from the Conservatives who have run a minority administration since 2019. A third of the council’s 60 seats are being contested. (12.30am)
Pendle – 4.30pm Friday, May 6
Pendle is being defended by the Conservatives, who won a slim majority last year. If the Tories lose two seats, the council will slip back into no overall control. Elections are taking place for 12 of the 33 seats. (4.30pm)
Cumberland and Westmorland & Furness – 1pm Friday, May 6
Two new unitary authorities that will elect councillors for the first time this year. The two authorities cover the whole of Cumbria. Cumberland is comprised of the former district councils of Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland, while Westmorland & Furness covers Barrow-in-Furness, Eden and South Lakeland. All the main parties will be jostling for prominence in these new ‘super-councils’ and the outcome in both contests could be close. (Cumberland 2.30am, Westmorland & Furness 1pm)
Sunderland – 2am Friday, May 6
Run by Labour since 1973, but both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have made advances in Sunderland in recent years. A third of the council’s 75 seats are up for grabs this year, and if Labour suffers six or more losses it will lose overall control. Although Sunderland is part of Labour’s so-called ‘Red Wall’ – areas of the country that saw many Tory gains at the 2019 general election – all three Sunderland MPs are Labour and the party defied predictions in 2021 when it retained its majority on the council.
Hartlepool – 2am Friday, May 6
The Conservatives and Labour are fighting to be in with a chance of taking overall control of the council – or failing that, end up the largest party and lead a minority administration or a coalition. The Tories won the parliamentary seat of Hartlepool from Labour at a by-election in May 2021. A strong showing by independent candidates could spice up the outcome of this year’s contest. Some 13 of the council’s 36 seats are being contested.
Yorkshire & the Humber
Kirklees – 6.30pm Friday, May 6
Currently run by Labour but the party does not have a majority in Kirklees. A third of seats are being elected and just two gains by Labour would give it overall control. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are also hoping to do well.
Wakefield – 5pm Friday, May 6
A Labour stronghold and is not likely to change hands, but the party will be hoping for a solid performance ahead of the expected parliamentary by-election in the city later this year, after Conservative MP Imran Khan was convicted of sexual assault. A third of seats are being contested.
Hull – 3.30am Friday, May 6
Hull is a two-way fight between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Labour’s majority has been whittled away in recent years and the party goes into this year’s election defending a majority of one. A third of the council’s seats are in play and the Lib Dems are hopeful of victory. (3.30am)
Dudley – 4am Friday, May 6
A crucial test for both the Conservatives and Labour. The Tories hope to build on the slim majority they secured at the 2021 local elections, while Labour will want to halt the blue advance and make gains themselves. A third of the council is up for grabs. (4am)
Solihull – 1pm Friday May 6
Another West Midlands metropolitan council under Conservative control, but the main opposition is the Greens. The party has been slowly eating into the Tories’ majority and will hope to take a few more bites this year. One third of Solihull’s seats are being contested.
Nuneaton & Bedworth – 4am Friday May 6
Dominated by the Conservatives after a bumper performance in last year’s elections. Labour will hope to demonstrate it is making a comeback, having controlled the council as recently as 2018. Half of the 34 seats are holding ballots.
Newcastle-under-Lyme – 3pm Friday May 6
Set to be a battle royal between Labour and the Conservatives, with every council seat up for grabs and the Tories defending a tiny majority. Success here for Labour would suggest the party is winning back support in one of its target areas of country. The parliamentary seat of Newcastle-under-Lyme was won by the Conservatives in 2019 after being held by Labour for the previous 100 years.
Derby – 5am Friday May 6
Derby is currently run by the Tories as a minority party. Labour will be looking to make gains in another test of party’s ability to win back support in urban areas of central England. An unknown factor is the popularity of the Reform Derby party, based on the former Brexit Party, which is standing candidates in all the seats being contested. There are 17 of the council’s 51 seats up for grabs.
St Albans – 4pm Friday May 6
St Albans saw the Liberal Democrats make enough gains in 2021 to take overall control, but with a slim majority. The party will want to improve its numbers this year as an example of how it is now the main opposition to the Conservatives in parts of the so-called ‘Blue Wall’ of southern England. The entire council is up for election. (4pm)
Peterborough – 2.30am Friday May 6
A long-running Conservative-Labour battleground and for decades the council has see-sawed between a Tory majority and no overall control. It is currently run by a minority Conservative administration and Labour will want to make gains to show it is recovering in a city it lost to the Tories at the 2019 general election. A third of seats are being contested.
Basildon – 1am Friday May 6
This Essex battleground could provide clues to how the Conservatives are doing in the commuter belt around London. The party won control of the council last year and will hope to consolidate its position in elections for a third of its 42 seats.
Stevenage – 2.30am Friday, May 6
A commuter-heavy area in Hertfordshire, but this time it is Labour who will be hoping to make progress. The party has controlled the council continuously since its creation in 1973 but will want to show it can reverse the losses it made last year. A third of the seats are up for grabs.
Barnet – 7am Friday May 6
Labour’s top target in London for the third election in a row. The party failed narrowly to win control in 2014, while 2018 saw the council swing further towards the Conservatives, with local Labour members blaming the row over antisemitism in the national party. Labour needs to gain nine seats to form a majority. As with every council in London, all seats are being elected.
Wandsworth – 5.30am Friday May 6
Another long-standing Labour target, but here the party managed to increased its number of councillors in both 2014 and 2018. The Tories have held the council since 1978 and have made a point of charging residents one of the lowest average levels of council tax in the country, so a Labour victory would be of symbolic significance.
Hillingdon – 4am Friday May 6
This borough contains the constituency of the Prime Minister and has been controlled by the Conservatives since 2006. Labour is hoping to make gains, but the outcome is hard to predict as the size of the council is being cut from 65 to 53 seats.
Restive Conservatives have been holding off a decision on whether to mount a coup against Boris Johnson (left) until the results come in, meaning the aftermath is likely to be the moment of maximum danger. Meanwhile, a failure to make significant progress could cause serious problems for Keir Starmer (right)
Westminster – 3am Friday May 6
A flagship borough held by the Tories continuously since its creation in 1964. But Labour has slowly increased its number of councillors at recent elections and will want to make more progress this time. Given the current volatile political climate, plus a reduction in the size of the council from 60 to 54 seats, the final result could be close.
Harrow – 5pm Friday May 6
A council where the reduction in the number of seats from 63 to 55 could work in either Labour or the Conservatives’ favour. Labour won a narrow majority in both 2014 and 2018 but the borough’s electoral districts have been substantially redrawn for 2022 and both parties could profit from the new-look map.
Sutton – 4am Friday May 6
A Liberal Democrat-Conservative battleground that has been run by the Lib Dems since 1990. The party should retain control again this year, but the Tories will hope to make gains and chip away at the Lib Dems’ small overall majority.
Crawley – 2pm Friday, May 6
Has tilted between Conservative and Labour control in recent years but neither party has an overall majority. It would take only a couple of gains for either the Tories or Labour to take full control of a council deep in the commuter belt of West Sussex. A third of seats are being contested.
Gosport – 5pm Friday May 6
The council sees the Conservatives, who have only a small majority, under pressure from the second-place Lib Dems. All the seats are up for grabs and boundary changes across the borough means the outcome will be even more unpredictable.
Worthing – 2pm Friday May 6
A top Labour target and the party goes into the election level-pegging with the Conservatives on 17 seats each. The Tories currently run the council as a minority administration but Labour has made steady gains in recent years and is hoping to take full control this year. A third of seats are being elected.
Southampton – 5am Friday May 6
Another Labour target and winning control from the Conservatives would help demonstrate the party is building back support in southern towns and cities. The Tories are defending a majority of two and a third of the seats are being contested.
Somerset – 4pm Friday May 6
Undergoing major changes this year in its system of local government. Until now the area has had a county council and four district councils (Mendip, Sedgemoor, South Somerset and Somerset West & Taunton) but these are being scrapped and replaced with a single unitary authority. Elections are taking place for all 110 seats in the new-look organisation, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats fighting for control.
Blaenau Gwent – 3pm Friday, May 6
This council has been run by a group of independents since 2017, some of whom used to be in the Labour Party. Labour is keen to take back control and might be helped by a reduction in the number of seats from 42 to 33.
Cardiff – 5pm Friday May 6
A key council for Labour, where the party will hope to defend its slim majority. The number of councillors is being increased slightly from 75 to 79, which might make the outcome more unpredictable.
Flintshire – 3pm Friday May 6
Sits in an area of Wales, the north east, where the Conservatives did well at the 2019 general election. The party won only six council seats in 2017 compared with Labour’s 34, so they are hoping to make an advance this year. For its part, Labour will want to remain the largest party and even win a majority, although the total number of seats is being cut from 70 to 67.
There are claims that the ultra-low emissions zone introduced by Sadiq Khan is playing badly for Labour in outer London – although the party insists it is popular in the capital as a whole
Aberdeenshire – 3pm Friday May 6
A Conservative stronghold, but like many councils in Scotland, power is shared between several parties. All councils in Scotland are elected using the single transferable vote (STV) system, where voters rank candidates and results are based on preferences rather than the winner-takes-all method used in England. This leads to many councils ending in no overall control, but encourages parties to work together either informally or as part of a coalition. The Tories have run Aberdeenshire in partnership with the Lib Dems and a group of Independents. Their success this year may hinge on the popularity in Scotland of the Tories’ UK leader Mr Johnson.
East Renfrewshire – 2pm Friday May 6
A three-way battle between the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP with each hoping to end up the largest party.
Edinburgh – 3.30pm Friday May 6
The council has been run by a joint SNP-Labour administration for the last five years, but the Conservatives head into this election as the largest party on the council. The Lib Dems and Greens have a smaller number of councillors but both will hope to make gains from the larger parties.
Glasgow – 4pm Friday May 6
The council has been run by the SNP since 2017 in what has been their first stint in control of the city, albeit as a minority administration. The party needs only a few gains to take full control, but Labour – which had previously run the city since 1980 – is keen to stop them.
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