'Massive boost' for Boris Johnson in local elections as England's first Muslim MP says opposition Labour has lost its way

Khalid Mahmood blames 'London-based bourgeoisie' for Labour Party losing touch

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrates his party's by-election victory in the former opposition Labour stronghold of Hartlepool in north-east England. AFP / Oli SCARFF
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrates his party's by-election victory in the former opposition Labour stronghold of Hartlepool in north-east England. AFP / Oli SCARFF

Britain's ruling Conservative Party was given a "massive boost" on Saturday as it took seats off the opposition in local elections.

As Labour reeled, the first head rolled on Saturday with Angela Raynor being fired as campaign coordinator, British media reported.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's party won a crushing victory at the Westminster by-election in the northern England town of Hartlepool, breaking the Labour Party’s decades-long stronghold on the seat, and across the country its success continued as it won more than 1,500 English council seats.

Despite recent criticism surrounding Mr Johnson's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his party has strengthened his grip on working-class areas, and analysts said that success will secure the Conservatives' position in the coming years.

"What is interesting about Hartlepool is that the Conservatives winning has not come as much of a surprise in the end, but the scale of the victory with over 50 per cent of the people, a real majority, voting Conservative," Professor Matthew Flinders, president of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom, told The National.

"This is a massive boost for Boris. It is a real bounce back after the flat refurbishment scandal and a sign of the long-term commitment of the public believing in his broader 'levelling up' agenda.

"It shows his connection with the public and will cover him for the next few years from anyone seeking to unseat him.”

The loss of the Hartlepool seat was a major blow to Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who faced his first electoral test since promising to transform the party after its heavy general election defeat in 2019.

By Saturday, Labour had lost more than 200 council seats.

“Losing that seat was catastrophic for Keir Starmer,” Prof Flinders said.

“That massive vote for Boris is an implicit defeat for him. The Labour Party needs to ask itself where it goes from here. There are already questions about Sir Keir, and these will get louder in the wake of this defeat and he will need to come out offering a more clear, connected vision for them.”

England's first Muslim MP, Labour's Khalid Mahmood, who last month stood down from the party’s frontbench, is standing by Mr Starmer.

He told The National he blamed the party’s “London-based bourgeoisie” for it “losing touch”.

"What we need to do is look at the reality of what the people we are there to represent is, and that is the real people working in the communities, who don't work from home, who actually physically go out to work, in industry, cafes or driving buses, who continue to struggle,” he told The National.

"We have lost their support, and that is what is coming through in this election. We have to build that back up and go back to our roots.

"The Labour movement is based on working-class people. It was the Labour Party who brought in the minimum wage to make sure the lowest people in work are properly protected. “To an extent we have now lost our way. We have these people working from home through social media who do not have that experience of real life.

"These are now the London-based bourgeoisie attitudes of a particular group of people who we tend to be isolated by.

“I think Keir Starmer will look at this and want to ensure he is able to address these issues as the leader and I'm sure he will do this."

Mr Starmer has vowed to fix his party.

"I am bitterly disappointed in the results and I take full responsibility for the result and I will take full responsibility for fixing things," he said.

"We have changed as a party but we haven't set out a strong enough case to the country. Very often we have been talking to ourselves instead of to the country, and we've lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool. I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that."

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, two years of local elections were held across the UK in a single day on Thursday, including for 143 English councils, the Scottish and Welsh devolved parliaments and mayoral elections.

On Saturday, there was success for the Labour Party as its candidates held mayoral posts in Manchester, Liverpool and North Tyneside.

In Liverpool, Joanne Anderson became Britain's first directly elected black female mayor and vowed to stamp out corruption and “rebuild trust” in the “world-class city”.

“Today is the beginning of the fresh start that we all want and need," she said.

"Today we made history.”

The result for the winner of London mayor is still yet to come in.

It also retained power in Wales after matching its best election result yet, with half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament.

For the Conservatives, Natasha Asghar made history by becoming the first female from a Black or Asian minority ethnic background to be elected to the Welsh Parliament.

Updated: May 9, 2021 04:33 AM

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