Labour says anger over its stance on Gaza had tempered some council results but wins show people backing Labour

  • Labour’s wins could fuel fresh calls for Sunak to step down.
  • Opinion polls predict Labour’s win in national election.
  • Sunak’s Conservatives 20 % points behind Labour.

LONDON: Britain’s Labour Party won mayoral polls in London and central England on Saturday, in crushing defeats for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s unpopular Conservatives ahead of a national election due later this year.

While Labour politician Sadiq Khan’s re-election as London mayor was widely expected, Labour also snatched a surprise, narrow victory in the central West Midlands region that is home to Britain’s second-largest city of Birmingham.

The wins are Labour’s latest in local elections to councils and mayoralties on Thursday and could fuel fresh calls for Sunak to step down.

Opinion polls predicted that Labour will win the next national election, propelling Keir Starmer to power and ending 14 years of Conservative government in Britain. Sunak has said he intends to call a vote in the second half of the year.

Conservative West Midlands Mayor Andy Street lost to his Labour opponent Richard Parker. Street’s 37.5% of the vote was eclipsed by 37.8% for Parker, a razor-thin margin translating to 1,508 votes.

Street, who has served as mayor since 2017, ran a campaign emphasising his personal record on investment while downplaying his Conservative affiliation. He publicly disputed Sunak’s decision to scrap the high-speed HS2 rail link from Birmingham to Manchester last year.

Parker had sought to link him to the unpopular national government. “I believe a Labour mayor working with a Labour government will help get Britain’s future back,” Parker said in a speech following the result.

Starmer said the result was beyond Labour’s expectations. “People across the country have had enough of Conservative chaos and decline and voted for change with Labour,” he said in a statement.

Sunak had been counting on getting an electoral boost from recent announcements on defence spending and the progress of his divisive plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Khan’s victory in London, his third in a row, came despite some public anger over knife crime and the Ultra Low Emission Zone that charges drivers of older, more polluting vehicles a daily fee.

“It’s been a difficult few months, we faced a campaign of non-stop negativity,” Khan said in a speech after the results showed he had won 43.8% of the vote against 33% for the Conservatives’ candidate, Susan Hall.

“For the last eight years, London has been swimming against the tide of a Tory (Conservative) government and now with a Labour Party that’s ready to govern again under Keir Starmer, it’s time for Rishi Sunak to give the public a choice.”

Khan, 53, became the first Muslim mayor of the British capital in 2016.

Hall had made scrapping ULEZ a centrepiece of her campaign but the 69-year-old Donald Trump fan made a series of gaffes and faced accusations of racism after being found to have engaged with far-right content online.

In one bright spot for Conservatives, Ben Houchen won re-election as mayor of Tees Valley in northern England on Friday.

Poor showing by Conservatives

Sunak’s Conservatives are about 20 % points behind Labour in most polls for the national election, which Sunak has said he intends to call in the second half of the year.

Labour said anger over its stance on Gaza, where more than 34,500 people have been killed in Israel’s military offensive, had tempered some council results but the wins showed people were backing Labour.

“This is on the eve of a general election … The mood is that it’s time for a change,” Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden, said.

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