Embattled UK PM Johnson faces mid-term test
Voters go to the polls in Britain on Thursday, in a mid-term test for the Conservative government that could determine beleaguered Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s future.
The local election results will be seen as a barometer of support for Johnson’s 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.
“What he (Johnson did was bad, with partygate, they were more or less laughing at you,” the 76-year-old retired factory worker told AFP.
“But they should focus on 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.
A LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph on Friday 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 told AFP.
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.
But DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson insists holding a border poll was “right at the heart” of his rivals’ manifesto.