British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday averted a bruising in the local elections, with results presenting a picture of mixed gains for her ruling Conservatives and Opposition Labour.
The biggest gains for the Conservative party came largely as a result of a near-wipeout of the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP), which had made significant gains in the last local elections.
The Labour party, which was expected to capitalise on an anti-incumbency wave against the ruling party in government, failed to win several target seats from the Tories, including Wandsworth and Westminster in London, but won back Plymouth and became the largest party in Trafford.
“It is a great result and down to all the hard work of the local councilors. We won’t take anything for granted and will carry on doing a great job,” said May, during a visit to Wandsworth seen as one of the major battlegrounds of these polls.
The party’s relatively robust performance will help quell renewed attacks over her leadership from her own party rebels, at least for a while. The elections, covering over 150 local authorities and spanning metropolitan and district councils, unitary authorities and London boroughs, were seen as a crucial test for her government as the first reflection of public opinion since the snap general election in June last year.
Both major parties suffered bad publicity in recent weeks, with the Tory government criticised over the ongoing Windrush immigration scandal and Labour struggling with anti-semitism allegations.
The Lib Dems, which tend to fare well at a local level, made some strong gains, including taking over Richmond in London from the Tories as a Brexit backlash in a strong Remain-supporting area.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, being seen as a major factor behind Labour’s disappointing showing, described the results as “solid”.
“We have consolidated and built on the advances we made at last year’s general election, when we won the largest increase in Labour’s share of the vote since 1945,” he said.
“Obviously I’m disappointed at any places where we lost a bit of ground… but if you look at the overall picture, Labour gained a lot of seats across the whole country, we gained a lot of votes in places we’d never had those votes before,” he added.
For UKIP, the relative highs of 2014 turned into near obliteration, with the party down 96 and left with just two councillors. Its general secretary, Paul Oakley, compared the Eurosceptic party to the Black Death, or the plague that caused millions of deaths in the 14th century, and said it was “not all over at all” for his party.
The Labour party performed better in places where the Remain vote was stronger and with a higher proportion of younger voters.
The parties were battling it out to either keep hold of or take control of around 4,371 seats across England. In addition to the council elections, a parliamentary byelection in Tyrone West, Northern Ireland, saw Sinn Fein’s Orfhlaith Begley hold the seat for her party.