Local polls: Embattled Johnson faces mid-term test
Posted: May 06, 2022
The local election results will be seen as a barometer of support for the Conservatives nationally, as well as an indicator of whether the opposition Labour party poses a serious threat.
Johnson, 57, won a landslide general election victory in December 2019 on a promise to break years of political deadlock and deliver Brexit – the country’s divisive departure from the European Union.
But his position has looked increasingly fragile, because of damaging claims about lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street and an inflationary surge that is squeezing voters’ incomes.
A police investigation last month saw him become the first British prime minister to be fined for breaking the law while in office.
Irate Tory MPs, mindful of public outrage at double standards and denials, had looked set to force a no-confidence vote in his leadership in January.
But Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, during which Johnson has shown hawkish support for president Volodymyr Zelensky, took the heat out of any mutiny.
Cost of living
A drubbing for Johnson’s Tories, though, could revive calls for him to go to bed in a new leader for the next general election, which is due by 2024.
"Partygate", however, has not proved the key issue for voters.
"What’s going to get folks a lot is the cost of living: food is going up, energy is going up," said one voter, who gave his name only as Bob, in Dudley, central England.
"What he (Johnson) did was bad, with partygate, they were more or less laughing at you," the 76-year-old retired factory worker said.
"But they should focus on the cost of living."
Labour – the main opposition nationally – gained ground at the local level in 2018, with the Tories in disarray after the Brexit vote two years earlier.
Keir Starmer, leader since 2020, will be hoping to claw back power on councils in "Red Wall" Labour areas of England that turned Tory blue at the last general election.
Polling indicates Labour will win the most seats in England, while the party wants to gain ground on the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland and consolidate its hold on Wales.
Apart from Johnson, the long-term future of the UK may also be in jeopardy this week.
Elections are also being held for the power-sharing assembly in Belfast, with Sinn Fein widely tipped to become the biggest party.
A LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph on Friday (29) put the nationalists six points clear of their nearest rivals, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
No pro-Irish nationalist party has ever been the largest party in the British province’s troubled 100-year history.
Deirdre Heenan, professor of social policy at Ulster University, called it "a moment of inflection in Irish politics".
"It will be a sea change if a nationalist becomes first minister," she said.
Sinn Fein – the former political wing of the IRA – has a longstanding aim to hold a so-called border poll on continued British sovereignty of Northern Ireland.
It has dialled down its calls for Irish unity during campaigning, instead preferring to focus on anger at the rising cost of living and other local issues.
Kavan Jayesh has been an editor for more than 2 years for news across the globe.