VOTERS across Britain are making their way to polling booths to choose thousands of new local councillors and eight mayors today (4).
Nearly 5,000 local authority seats are being contested across England, Scotland and Wales, along with eight metropolitan mayoralties.
Polling stations opened at 7 am and will close at 10pm, with results due tomorrow (5). They could be an indicator of the General Election next month, but experts have cautioned that council elections are normally fought on local issues, and are often used to punish the sitting government.
Prime minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party holds a 19-point lead over Labour, according to a YouGov poll yesterday (3) for The Times.
The poll showed support for Conservatives at 48 per cent, up four points from a YouGov poll conducted last week, Labour at 29 per cent, down two points, Liberal Democrats at 10 per cent and UKIP at five per cent.
May visited the Queen at Buckingham Palace yesterday to mark the dissolution of parliament, the formal start of the campaign for the June 8 General Election.
Two weeks ago the prime minister called the surprise June general election to strengthen her mandate as she heads into EU negotiations, and she is well aware Brexit will be on many voters’ minds today.
“The Conservatives are doing very well and that is almost certainly likely to have some spillover into the local elections,” said Roger Scully, politics professor at the University of Cardiff.
But drawing a national picture from today’s vote will be made harder by the absence of council elections in England’s biggest cities, where Labour is traditionally strong.
“Let’s see what happens. That might be an interesting measure of how things are going more generally, and how accurate the polling is,” a senior Labour source said.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who were almost wiped out in the 2015 general election after entering a coalition government with the Conservatives, are hoping to pick up some momentum for the June vote with gains today.
By contrast the anti-EU, anti-mass immigration UK Independence Party is predicted to lose most of its council seats as it struggles to define itself now that its principal goal – Brexit – is on its way to being achieved.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the local elections will indicate the strength of the ruling Scottish National Party, which has used the Brexit vote to call for a new referendum on independence.