Johnson under renewed pressure after ‘tough night’ for Tories in local elections

Keir Starmer hails ‘big turning point’ for Labour as Lib Dems also make comeback

Boris Johnson has faced renewed questions about his leadership after the Conservatives lost hundreds of seats in local elections in England, Scotland and Wales. The party lost control of Wandsworth and Westminster councils in London, which it had held for decades, and fell into third place in Scotland.

Labour made big gains in London and the south of England and moved into second place in Scotland behind the Scottish National Party (SNP), but performed less well in its former industrial strongholds in the midlands and the north of England. The Liberal Democrats made a comeback, particularly in southern England where they captured dozens of seats from the Conservatives and took control in Somerset.

Mr Johnson described the results as “mixed”, putting his party’s losses down to the fact that it is halfway through the current parliamentary term.

“We had a tough night in some parts of the country, but on the other hand, in other parts of the country you are still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains in places that haven’t voted Conservative for a long time, if ever,” he said.


Conservative councillors were quick to blame their losses on the controversies surrounding the government over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and the resignation of Neil Parrish as MP after he admitted to watching pornography in the House of Commons chamber. Stephen Hammond, the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, said "partygate" was undoubtedly a factor that influenced voters.

“There was a lot of analysis done prior to these elections saying ‘watch for problems for the Conservative party in these elections because of low turnout’. Actually what you have seen in a number of my wards tonight is high turnout and unfortunately it is angry Tories turning out at voting away from where they would normally do so and that ought to be a clarion bell ringing very loudly in No 10 Downing Street,” he said.

‘Blue link’

Roger Gale, an MP who withdrew his call for Mr Johnson to resign after Russia invaded Ukraine, said the war was no longer a reason to keep the prime minister in office. And Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh said the party's loss of Somerset was "terrible" because it broke the "blue link" between local and national government.

“I do not think the current team is capable of delivering a successful economic policy for the country. The current set-up isn’t working and it needs to be changed,” he said.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the party was back on track to win the next general election as a BBC projection suggested it would take 35 per cent of the national vote compared to the Conservatives' 30 per cent if all of Britain had gone to the polls.

“This is a big turning point,” he said. “From the depths of the 2019 general election, we’re back on track. We’ve sent a message to the prime minister: Britain deserves better.”

Sir Keir suffered a personal setback when it emerged that Durham police were investigating an incident where he and a Labour campaign team ate curry and drank beer together in an office during lockdown. The Conservatives have accused the Labour leader of hypocrisy because he called for Mr Johnson and chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak to resign after they were fined for attending a lockdown-breaking event in Downing Street.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times