Local elections 2022: voters head to polls across UK

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he is 'absolutely confident' he has right agenda for the country

Voters are heading to the polls to have their say in a host of local elections across the UK on Thursday.

The Conservatives will find out in the coming days as votes are tallied whether they will be made to pay the price for the so-called partygate saga in Downing Street, which has seen Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak fined for breaking coronavirus laws.

Oliver Dowden, the Conservative 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.

“The elections today are about one thing: who do you want running your council?” said Mr Dowden.

“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 said Mr Johnson was “an asset, not a liability” in elections.

She 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.

Mr Johnson, during a visit to Southampton Airport on the last day before polls opened, stressed he was “absolutely confident” he had the “right agenda for the country”.

The prime minister arrived at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster on Thursday morning to cast his vote, accompanied by his dog Dilyn. He was wearing a light blue tie and shirt, a nod to the Conservative Party's colour.

Mr Johnson appeared in good spirits and wished waiting reporters a good morning, but was otherwise tight-lipped about an election in which the Conservatives are predicted to lose hundreds of council seats.

Tory supporters will be waiting anxiously for results in 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.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 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 Covid-19 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 increase national insurance last month.

“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,” said Sir Keir, writing in The Daily Mirror.

There have been Tory calls for Durham Police to look into whether the opposition leader broke Covid-19 rules while campaigning before last year's Hartlepool by-election.

But Sir Keir said it was a “smear” to suggest he breached the regulations while having “a takeaway and a beer while I was working late at night”.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said voters on Thursday have a chance to “send Boris Johnson a message he can’t ignore”.

“The Conservatives have failed to deal with the cost of living crisis, voted to pollute our rivers and abandoned our ambulance services,” he said.

“Whether it’s Somerset or Stockport, Winchester or Wimbledon, St Albans or South Cambridgeshire, I’ve spoken to lifelong Conservative voters who feel utterly taken for granted by a lawbreaking prime minister and a tax-hiking chancellor.”

The Lib Dems are hopeful of causing an upset in Hull by dislodging it from Labour’s control, while also vying for victory against the Tories in places such as Wokingham and Sutton.

In England, 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.

All 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 in Wales will also be holding elections, with polls open between 7am and 10pm.

Meanwhile, tensions were high in Northern Ireland ahead of Stormont elections, where voters will go to the polls across 18 constituencies to elect 90 MLAs.

England

The prime minister’s actions and their consequences have threatened to overshadow the Conservatives’ chances in the election.

Mr Johnson last month became the first British leader fined for breaking the law while in office.

The scandal, coupled with last week’s resignation of Conservative MP Mr Parish after he admitted watching porn in the House of Commons, has damaged the party’s image.

Scotland

The lead-up to local elections in Scotland has been dominated by national issues and the cost of living crisis, brought about by an increase in fuel bills, national insurance contributions and inflation.

Scottish parties have urged voters to “send a message” to the governments in Westminster and Holyrood with their votes.

The Scottish Tories have seen their popularity wane in opinion polls over the past few months, as the “partygate” affair dominated headlines, dropping to third place behind Scottish Labour in surveys done for Westminster, Holyrood and local council votes.

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.

Wales

Labour is on track for a surge in Wales’ local elections which could see nationalists Plaid Cymru lose as many as 42 seats, according to opinion polls.

A recent survey carried out by Electoral Calculus and Find Out Now predicted the Tories could lose several councils in Wales.

Northern Ireland

Opinion polls have suggested Sinn Fein is likely to top the poll, and the Alliance Party is tipped to have a surge in support.

If they come into power, Irish nationalists Sinn Fein have pledged to hold a referendum giving voters an opportunity to decide whether to remain part of the UK for join the Republic to form a reunited Ireland.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 8:22 AM
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