| 26 May 2024, Sunday |

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

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

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party won a crushing victory at the Westminster by-election in the northern England town of Hartepool, , 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 clearer, 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.