UK Conservatives braced for Brexit backlash in local elections
WINDSOR: Britain’s Conservatives were fearing major setbacks in local elections on Thursday, even in strongholds like Prime Minister Theresa May’s constituency, as voters on both sides of the Brexit debate vent their anger.
“I’ve always voted Conservative but not any more,” Mike Chamberlain, 72, a retired engineer, told AFP standing in the shadow of historic Windsor Castle.
“We’ve all been absolutely betrayed over Brexit. We voted to come out and they’re doing everything but take us out.”
Voters are headed to the polls in mainly rural and suburban areas of England, with more than 8,000 seats up for grabs.
Pollsters are estimating the Conservatives could lose hundreds of seats amid strong dissatisfaction over their handling of Brexit, which has been delayed twice because of a deadlock in parliament.
The opposition Labour Party is hoping to make gains, but could suffer from accusations of fence-sitting on Brexit and lose votes to the pro-European Liberal Democrats or newly-emerging local parties.
‘Turnout will be way down’
In Windsor and Maidenhead just west of London, where the Conservatives won 54 of the 57 seats in 2015 and the council comprises May’s parliamentary seat, many Brexit supporters said they were either not planning to vote — or ditching the party.
Chamberlain, who said he would have been tempted by the far-right party UKIP had they stood candidates in his seat, expected other like-minded voters across England would also stay at home.
“I think the turnout will be way down today because people have just lost faith in their MPs.”
Atlanta Margison, a 53-year-old housewife and longtime Conservative voter, said she was against both the Conservatives and Labour this time due to the chaos that has engulfed the process and local concerns.
“Because they’re fighting one another and they don’t know what they’re doing, that’s basically just changed my mind,” she told AFP.
“They’re supposed to be trying to run the country — they’re not doing a very good job of it at the moment,” she added of the ruling Conservatives.
“I think they might’ve lost a lot of people.”
Margison said she felt personal sympathy for May, noting she is popular locally.
“She’s tried her hardest but she’s just hitting a brick wall at the moment.”
Although council elections in Britain can be notoriously hard to predict, with local issues playing a prominent role in how people vote, governing parties often suffer a backlash.
‘A lot of anger out there’
In Windsor and Maidenhead several independent councillors joined forces with breakaway Conservatives last year to form a new party advocating more localised politics to break one-party dominance, in a move being mirrored in other parts of England.
Lynne Jones, 54, the leader of the opposition in the council and one of the founders of the new local party, The Borough First, said they were contesting nearly half the total seats in cooperation with independents.
“There’s a lot of anger out there with traditional politics,” she said.
“On the doorstep you are finding people saying that they’ll never vote again, that they’ve lost trust in politicians.
“They also say that they won’t vote for whatever party they did vote for — Conservative or Labour — because they don’t believe that they’ve been listening to the voters.”
She predicted Thursday’s polls would be hard to call but “there’s definitely going to be change across the country.”
Locally, Jones argued any reduction in Conservative support could be seen as an indictment on both May’s national leadership as well as that of local Tories.
“She’s well respected in Maidenhead… so should the council be returned with a lesser majority then I think it would be reflection on her being PM (prime minister).”