Labour pips Tory & Lib Dems in Britian’s local elections
LONDON BRITISH voters showed their anger against the government’s failure to revive the economy in local elections that saw Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives outflanked on the left by Labour and on the right by anti-European fringe party UKIP.
Cameron hopes a likely win for his party’s flamboyant London mayoral candidate, incumbent Boris Johnson, will deliver some positive headlines later on Friday. But the bigger story was the damage to his party’s electoral prospects at national level.
“People are hurting, people are suffering from the recession, people are suffering from a government that has raised taxes for them and cut taxes for millionaires. I think that’s what we saw last night,” said Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party.
Britain tipped into a double- dip recession last week, unwelcome news for a government that has staked its reputation on economic competence.
Two years into a painful austerity drive, a recent cut in the income tax rate for high earners went down like a lead balloon with the hard-pressed millions.
Derided as “arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk” by a rebel from within their own ranks, Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne have struggled with a perception that they are out of touch with ordinary voters.
This was reinforced by a row on the so-called “pasty tax”, a VAT hike that raised the price of pasties, a cheap and popular snack.
With results declared in 100 of the 181 councils being contested across the country, Labour had gained 475 new councillors while the Conservatives had lost 279 and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners had lost 133. UKIP, which stands for UK Independence Party, was contesting only a fraction of the total seats up for grabs but where it did field candidates, it averaged a record 14 percent of the vote.
This translated into just seven councillors because UKIP’s support is geographically scattered, which makes it hard for the party to win any individual ward.
However, UKIP’s surge in support was a clear threat to the Conservatives, who need to increase their popular support before the next national election, in 2015.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that UKIP is taking away votes from the Conservatives,” Philip Davies, a Conservative member of parliament, told Reuters.
“UKIP are a massive threat.
They will undoubtedly stop us from winning seats that we would otherwise win (in 2015), and given how difficult it is for us to win an overall majority, every seat counts,” he added.
Conversely, UKIP reported that their good result would help them increase their presence in future elections.
“There’s been a whole slew of people saying that’s it, next time I’ll stand because we don’t have a UKIP candidate here,” a UKIP spokesman told Reuters.
At the last national parliamentary election, in 2010, the Conservatives fell short of an overall majority even though Labour were unpopular after 13 years in power. Cameron was forced to form an uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Vociferous right-wingers within the Conservative Party have always maintained that Cameron should have done more to appeal to the party’s traditional supporters by attacking the European Union and talking tough on crime and immigration.
UKIP’s success at Thursday’s local elections is sure to embolden those Conservative right-wingers.
Calls for Cameron to hold a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU will become more strident, as will opposition to Cameron’s decision to legalise gay marriage.
“So far he’s tended to treat his party like a general, a field-marshal. But he has to realise it’s not his party and listen to other voices in the party,” influential online Conservative activist Tim Montgomerie told Reuters