UK Conservatives fear mid-term battering
LONDON BRITONS voted in local elections on Thursday with London mayor Boris Johnson set to stay in office in an Olympic year but the country’s governing coalition expected to take a mid-term battering.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s two-year-old coalition with the Liberal Democrats has become increasingly unpopular due to a double-dip recession, austerity and a series of blunders.
Polls opened in typically British wet, windy weather at 0600 GMT and were set to close at 2100 GMT. Results will start coming in early on Friday but the London mayor result is not due until the evening.
Johnson, the incumbent Conservative mayor in the capital since 2008, is ahead in the polls against his bitter Labour rival and predecessor Ken Livingstone but has largely distanced himself from the national party.
The eccentric Johnson — famed for his mop of blond hair and bumbling manner as much as for his political acumen — gave a confident thumbs-up as he arrived to cast his vote in north London.
A poll in London’s Evening Standard on Wednesday put Johnson on 53 percent and Livingstone, who was mayor from 2000-2008 and dubbed “Red Ken” for his socialist leanings, on 47 percent.
With the mayor lacking powers such as setting taxes, the race has revolved around issues of transport and policing, both crucial factors ahead of the London Olympics which open on July 27.
Livingstone has promised lower transport fares while Johnson has pledged to extend his Paris-style bike rental scheme.
Reports said the grim weather could make turnout as low as 33 percent, compared with 45.3 percent for the London mayoral poll in 2008. Nationally, the centreright Conservatives and centrist Liberal Democrats, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, are braced to lose hundreds of the 5,000 seats at stake on 181 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales.
Northern Ireland votes separately.
There are also mayoral elections in Liverpool and Salford in northwestern England, while 10 other English cities will hold referendums on whether to introduce directlyelected mayors for the first time.
US-style city mayors were a Conservative manifesto promise but opinion polls indicate a lukewarm response, with analysts expecting only three to five of the 10 cities to vote “yes” despite Cameron’s call for “a Boris in every city”.
Cameron and his wife Samantha turned out to vote in London, as did Labour leader Ed Miliband and his wife Justine.
Clegg voted alone in Sheffield, his northern English constituency, as his Spanish wife Miriam does not have a vote.
Cameron appealed to voters on Wednesday not to punish the Conservatives for Britain’s economic woes, after figures showed last week that Britain had slipped back into recession.
“I recognise it’s a difficult time for families,” he said. “I just hope that people will look at these elections and recognise it’s about electing your local council.” Cameron’s decision to stand by the government’s austerity strategy despite fears it is undermining growth, and cut tax on top-bracket earners, has compounded the coalition’s unpopularity.
Miliband said his party would “stand up for the many” rather than the “rich and powerful” who he said were the priority of the coalition.