Sunday, May 22, 2022

UK PM Johnson loses London strongholds as scandals bite in local elections

UK PM Johnson loses London strongholds as scandals bite in local elections
May 7, 2022 Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party lost control of traditional strongholds in London and suffered setbacks elsewhere in local elections, with voters punishing his government over a series of scandals.

Results on Friday suggested Johnson, a former London mayor who led the campaign to leave the European Union, was losing support in southeastern England while his party also lost seats in Scotland and Wales.

After months of pressure, his supporters moved quickly to say now was not the time to oust a leader they said could still provide leadership and help fix the country's ailing economy.

Admitting the party had faced a "tough night", Johnson said it had also made some gains.

"This is a message from voters that what they want us to do ... is focus on the big issues that matter to them: taking the country forward, making sure that we fix the post COVID economic aftershock," he said.

Johnson's party was ousted in Wandsworth, a low-tax Conservative stronghold since 1978, part of a trend in the British capital where voters used the elections to express anger over a cost-of-living crisis and fines imposed on the prime minister for breaking his own COVID-19 lockdown rules.

For the first time, the opposition Labour Party won the council of Westminster, a district where most government institutions are located. The Conservatives also lost control of the borough of Barnet, which has been held by the party in all but two elections since 1964.

"Fantastic result, absolutely fantastic. Believe you me, this is a big turning point for us from the depths of 2019 general election," said Labour leader Keir Starmer.

While governing parties often struggle at mid-term elections, the overall tally offers the most important snapshot of public opinion since Johnson won the Conservative's biggest majority in more than 30 years in the 2019 national vote.

In April he became the first British leader in living memory to have broken the law while in power when he was fined for attending a birthday gathering in his office in 2020, breaking pandemic social distancing rules then in place. 

Labour's Starmer had led the charge that Johnson should resign, however police said on Friday they were now investigating him after they received new information about an event he attended in 2021, blunting any attack. 

The loss of key councils in London, where the Conservatives were almost wiped out, will increase pressure on Johnson, who faces the possibility of more police fines over his attendance at other lockdown-breaking gatherings.