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UK local elections: Tories suffer heavy losses in major blow to Johnson

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ballots are counted during local elections, at Wandsworth Town Hall, London, Britain May 6, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

In a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Labor party seized control of Conservative strongholds in London first time in decades, and suffered setbacks across England, early results showed.

The embattled British premier’s party failed to retain power in Wandsworth, a low-tax stronghold of the Conservatives since 1978, pointing to voters’ anger over the cost-of-living crisis gripping the country.

Wandsworth Tory leader Ravi Govindia blamed national issues for the party's poor performance as recriminations began to mount for Johnson.

The Conservatives also lost control of the borough of Barnet, which has been with the party in all but two elections since 1964.

"This is a warning shot from Conservative voters," said Daniel Thomas, the Conservative leader of Barnet council as quoted by media outlets.

In a sensational turn of fortunes for the Labor party, they also seized control of Westminster city council from Tories, dealing another heavy blow to Johnson.

Westminster, which hosts most government institutions, has been run by the Tories ever since it was created in 1964 and has long been regarded as the 'jewel in the crown' of local authorities.

The new Labour leader of Westminster City Council termed the victory a "huge privilege".

“We are delighted that people in Westminster put their trust in us. It’s a huge privilege. We are going to work really hard to put their interests first over the next four years,” Adam Hug said.

"We have got a lot of big challenges ahead, we are going to get to work and we are going to help as many people as we can."

The overall results due later on Friday will show the most significant snapshot of public opinion since Johnson won the Conservative Party's largest majority in more than 30 years in the 2019 general election.

Johnson’s political fortunes have dipped since the Partygate scandal at Downing Street, which caused a big embarrassment to him and his party.

The worsening cost-of-living crisis in the country has also the final nail in his coffin.

Johnson under pressure

The loss of key councils in London, where the Conservatives were nearly wiped out, is likely to increase pressure on Johnson, who has been struggling to secure his political survival for months.

Early results on Friday indicated that the Tories had lost 92 council seats. The main opposition Labour Party gained 23 seats while the Liberal Democrats won 42 seats.

It is the first electoral test for Johnson since he became the first British prime minister in living memory to have broken the law while in office.

He was fined last month for attending a birthday party at his office in 2020 in violation of social distancing rules in place then to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The elections held on Thursday will decide nearly 7,000 council seats, including all those in London, Scotland, and Wales, and a third of the seats in most of the rest of England.

Johnson upended conventional British politics in the 2019 general election by winning and then pledging to improve living standards in former industrial areas in central and northern England.

The loss of Wandsworth, Barnet, and potentially Westminster, however, symbolizes how Johnson -- who won two terms as mayor of London -- has lost his appeal in the capital. 

The outcome outside London, however, is likely to be less clear-cut, according to early results reported by the local media, which show Conservatives losing overall control of councils in Southampton, Worcester, and West Oxfordshire.

Some local Conservative council leaders have called for Johnson’s resignation over the party's poor performance in local elections, which they have blamed on him being fined as well as the simmering cost-of-living crisis.

Sinn Fein eyes landmark victory in North Ireland

Sinn Fein, an Irish republican and democratic socialist political party is poised to emerge as the first Irish nationalist party to win the most seats in Northern Ireland in an election on Thursday that will challenge the stability of the British region's power-sharing governance and talks on post-Brexit trading rules.

Victory for a party seeking separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom would mark a historic shift 24 years after the Good Friday peace accord that ended three decades of sectarian bloodshed between those seeking unity with neighboring Ireland and those desiring to remain part of the UK.

Support for Fein stood at an average of 25 percent across the final campaign polls, giving the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army a six-point lead over its nearest rival, the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose popularity has dwindled over the past 18 months.

Turnout was as high as 60 percent in some areas an hour before polls closed at 2100 GMT, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland estimated. Vote tallies began early on Friday with results expected later in the day.

Fein benefited from a surge in turnout to 65 percent five years ago when it closed the gap to the DUP to just one seat.

The main nationalist and unionist rivals are compelled to share power under the terms of the 1998 peace deal.

The DUP, however, has underlined that it will no longer do so unless the protocol governing Northern Ireland's trade with the rest of the UK after its exit from the European Union is overhauled.

The outcome is also likely to reaffirm that a majority of lawmakers - including Sinn Fein - in the regional assembly favor retaining the protocol.

A majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in Britain's 2016 Brexit referendum that yielded a narrow countrywide majority in favor of leaving.

Britain and the EU have spent months trying to agree on how to remove many of the checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, imposed under the protocol to avoid fraying the EU single market via the open border with Ireland.

London, however, has also threatened to stir tensions with Brussels by unilaterally overruling parts of the agreement.

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