The Conservatives of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced a gloomy set of local election results on Friday, with voters punishing his party following a year of political scandals, increasing prices, and slow economic development.
While governing parties frequently struggle in mid-term elections, the council results in England will be the largest, and possibly the final, test of voter sentiment before the next general election, which is scheduled for next year.
Counting has only taken place in about a quarter of the 8,000 council seats in local government authorities, which have responsibility for the day-to-day provision of public services such as bin collections and schools.
The early results, which do not affect the government’s majority in parliament, showed the Conservatives suffering a net loss of 218 seats while the main opposition Labour Party added 118 seats and the Liberal Democrats gained 57.
Labour said in a statement that based on these local election results it was on track to win the next general election with an eight-point lead over the Conservatives.
Sunak’s party suffered losses to Labour in key target seats in the north and southern England, while the Liberal Democrats were advancing in wealthier parts of the south.
The prime minister told reporters the results so far showed that people wanted his ruling party to deliver on their priorities, but that it was still too early in the process of announcing results to draw firm conclusions.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said based on the results so far, the Conservatives were in “considerable electoral trouble” and could face a net loss of about 1,000 seats, which would be in line with the party’s most pessimistic forecast.
A full picture of the state of the parties will not become clear until later on Friday when most of the councils will announce their results.