Labour in Turmoil as Party Chair Is Fired: U.K. Elections Update

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, is to leave her role as party chair after the disastrous elections that saw Britain’s main opposition lose key battlegrounds to Boris Johnson’s ruling Conservatives.

Rayner is the second in command to Keir Starmer, whose leadership has come in for criticism after the party lost a string of contests including Hartlepool, a northeastern English town it had held for almost 50 years. A person familiar with the matter said Rayner will stay on in her role as deputy leader but Starmer is now looking to appoint a new chair of the party.

Elsewhere, there was better news for Labour when Sadiq Khan was re-elected as London Mayor, despite a tighter than expected race.

A constitutional battle hangs over the future of Scotland, meanwhile, with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party on course for a fourth term in power in the Edinburgh parliament, bolstered by the pro-independence Greens.

Key Developments:

  • No outright majority in Scotland for the SNP after Tories hold key seats
  • Labour’s Sadiq Khan defeats Conservative Shaun Bailey after tight London mayoral race
  • Andy Burnham wins landslide as Greater Manchester Mayor, says “one day” he might stand to be Labour leader
  • In English local elections, Conservatives have gained 252 councilors, Labour’s lost 293, with 128 council results declared out of a total of 143
  • Labour held power in Wales, winning 30 of the 60 available parliamentary seats

Khan Wins London Again Despite Tory Surge (11 p.m.)

Labour’s Sadiq Khan was re-elected as Mayor of London but only after a closer than expected contest. Khan had been the favorite all the way through the campaign and he eventually defeated Tory challenger Shaun Bailey by 55.2% to 44.8%, once second preference votes had been counted.

In speeches afterward, Khan warned that the city and the country remains deeply divided after Brexit and in the wake of the pandemic.

Johnson Calls U.K. Leaders’ Summit (10:30 p.m.)

Boris Johnson invited the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to a summit to discuss the country’s “shared challenges” on Saturday evening. The summit follows the election of Scottish and Welsh devolved parliaments, and amid calls from Scottish nationalists for another vote on independence.

Johnson congratulated Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on her success in the election, saying he passionately believes “the interests of people across the U.K. and in particular the people of Scotland are best served when we work together.” He didn’t explicitly mention the SNP’s plan for a new referendum on Scottish independence, but his point was clear enough.

Labour Turmoil as Starmer ‘Fires’ Party Chair (7:30 p.m.)

A Labour official explained the leader’s decision to move deputy leader Angela Rayner from her role as party chair and campaign chief, paying the price for the defeats. Starmer said he was taking full responsibility and that means change is needed to the party’s election machine, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rayner is likely to be offered another role and will remain as deputy leader. But that may not calm some of the anger from colleagues at the way Starmer has treated her. Rayner’s supporters say she’s a perfect example of the sort of working class, northern English communities that the party needs to reconnect with.

Tory West Midlands Mayor Andy Street Re-Elected (5:50 p.m.)

Conservative incumbent Andy Street won the West Midlands mayoral election with a bigger majority after second-preference votes were counted. He won 314,669 votes compared to Labour candidate and former minister Liam Byrne’s 267,626.

Sturgeon Stands by Referendum Timetable (5:30 p.m.)

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon hailed the election as providing a mandate to hold a second independence referendum given the projected majority for pro-independence legislators.

Sturgeon said that while getting through the coronavirus crisis has to come first, it is still realistic for there to be an independence referendum in the first half of the parliament, meaning a vote before the end of 2023.

Any Westminster politician that tries to stand in the way of that is “picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people” and “will not succeed,” she told broadcasters in Glasgow. “The only people who can decide the future of Scotland is the Scottish people.”

Burnham Slams Labour and Hints at Leadership Goal (4:57 p.m.)

Labour’s Andy Burnham won re-election as Greater Manchester mayor in a landslide and immediately launched a passionate case for overhauling his battered party. “Labour has to change,” Burnham told the BBC. “Labour has to get rid of its London centric ways and if it doesn’t I don’t know what the future holds for us.”

Burnham said his energy is focused on the job he’s just been elected to do but “one day” in the future he might stand to be Labour leader again after failed bids in 2010 and 2015. He said he supports the current leader Keir Starmer, describing him as a “friend.”

Burnham earned the nickname the “King of the North” after he took on Johnson’s government last year, demanding more financial support for his region to help it cope with pandemic restrictions.

John Curtice: Edinburgh and London Will Clash (4:38 p.m.)

John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said his analysis for the BBC showed the route to an outright majority for the SNP is now “closed.” There will still be an overall majority of 15 seats for the combined SNP and Green Party, he said.

“We are clearly looking at a Scottish parliament with an enhanced pro-independence majority thanks to what looks like a record-breaking performance from the Greens,” Curtice said as he revealed his projections. “We can say there clearly is going to be a constitutional clash at some point between this parliament and the U.K. government.”

BBC Projection: SNP Won’t Win Majority (4:26 p.m.)

The Scottish National Party is expected to fall short of the outright majority it’s targeted as a mandate for a new vote on independence, according to BBC projections.

That said, Scottish nationalist parties are seen winning an overall majority, when the SNP and Green party seats are combined, according to BBC projections.

Sturgeon has said a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament would be the required mandate for a second vote on secession, something U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to consider, saying now it not the right time.

Tories Hold Off SNP Challenge in Key District (3:40 p.m.)

The Scottish National Party failed to win one of the last two remaining marginal constituencies it’s been targeting, as an outright majority for Nicola Sturgeon’s party looks increasingly unlikely.

The Conservatives held the Galloway and West Dumfries seat with an increased share of the vote.

With only one more marginal constituency still to declare, the focus will soon move to Scotland’s list vote, where lawmakers are elected using a proportional representation system. The SNP may need to win more seats on that system than it did in 2016 if it is to secure it’s outright majority in the Scottish parliament.

Conservatives Lead in West Midlands (3:15 p.m.)

Incumbent Conservative mayoral candidate Andy Street leads Labour after the counting of first-preference votes in the West Midlands, winning 49% of the vote to Labour’s 40%. That’s just short of the 50% required though, so second-preference votes will now be counted.

Labour Close in On Mayor Positions (2:45 p.m.)

There’s some relief for Labour in England as several mayoral races come to a close. The party held on to positions in North Tyneside, with 53% of the vote, and Steve Rotherham was re-elected in the Liverpool City Region.

In London, the race remains tighter than expected, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan narrowly ahead, on 40% of votes counted so far, to his Tory rival Shaun Bailey’s 35%. Khan will likely need second-preference votes from those who backed the Greens with their first preference to push him over the finish line.

Elsewhere, Labour’s Liam Byrne has won the most first preference votes in Birmingham for the West Midlands mayoral elections, but other areas have yet to declare. It would be quite the steal, though polls suggest the Conservative Andy Street should win once all the results come in.

SNP Defend Top Tory Target (2 p.m.)

The Scottish Conservatives’ top target, Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, had been defended by the SNP. John Fairlie won what was the most marginal seat for the party in 2016 with an increased majority.

Welsh Labour Promise ‘Radical’ Government (1:30 p.m.)

Mark Drakeford, leader of the Welsh Labour party, has said he will be “radical” and “ambitious” in government as Labour looks set to stay in power in the country, according to the PA news agency.

Labour is just one short of a majority in the Senedd election, winning 30 votes.

Ulster Unionist Leader Resigns (12:45 p.m.)

There are no elections for the Northern Ireland assembly this week, yet political developments continue amid a backdrop of ongoing tensions in the region.

Steve Aiken is to resign as Ulster Unionist Party leader, the BBC reported. Frustration with his leadership has been growing across all levels of the party, the BBC said, citing unidentified sources.

Arlene Foster, head of the Democratic Unionist Party, announced last month she would stand down with a leadership election to be held on May 14. Northern Ireland has recently endured some of its worst violence in years, fueled partly by the Brexit settlement which essentially created an economic border between the region and mainland Britain.

Scottish Tory Sees SNP Majority (12:30 p.m.)

David Mundell, the former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, said that he anticipates the SNP will get a majority.

“I accept that the SNP is going to win and I anticipate that they’ll have a majority because it’s clear that they’re probably going to pick up some list seats,” he told the BBC. Mundell, a politician at Westminster, added that the SNP’s “Both Votes SNP” strategy has been a success in getting people to vote for the party in the regional and constituency vote.

Khan Campaign Quietly Confident (11.55 a.m.)

Results are trickling in from more London districts in the mayoral race, and Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan’s team believe they look promising for him at this stage. But the campaign is staying cautious because of the national swing to the Conservatives, and the fact there was a Conservative mayor -- Boris Johnson -- in London just five years ago.

It’s been a tighter race than expected between Khan and Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey. Khan’s team believe this is due to low turnout and voters believing they could put a smaller party as first preference without impacting the final result.

The result is set to be announced in the early evening of Saturday.

First Result Mixed News for SNP (11 a.m.)

The SNP held the Aberdeenshire East seat though not emphatically, with the outcome of neighboring Aberdeenshire West key for the party’s chances of winning an outright majority.

The party held off a Conservative challenger, who increased their vote share by 11%. The result from Aberdeenshire West, an important SNP target in any bid to secure an outright majority, should arrive later Saturday.

In any case, SNP supporters are stressing a majority of pro-independence legislators -- including the Greens -- is sufficient to indicate support for another referendum on secession, given Scotland’s proportional voting system. Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens, said votes for his party are up and will likely ensure a pro-independence majority, the Press Association reported.

Counting Resumes in Scotland (9:30 a.m.)

Counting has started again in the Scottish Parliament election, the Press Association reported.

With 47 constituency results declared on Friday, the SNP had 38 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two. Some constituencies are still to be counted on Saturday, when the regional list results will also be declared.

The SNP are unlikely to win an outright majority according to John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. They’ll need to pick up at least three of four key seats: two Conservative-held marginal constituencies in Aberdeenshire West and Galloway; and a list seat in the Highlands and one in the south of Scotland, he said.

SNP: Don’t Need Outright Majority for Referendum (8:20 a.m.)

The SNP says they don’t need an outright majority to secure a mandate for a Scottish independence referendum as long as other nationalist parties win most of the seats.

Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney said it’s difficult to tell whether the SNP will win an outright majority, though there will be a pro-independence consensus once Green legislators are counted. The outcome of the vote in Scotland remains on a knife edge, with the SNP hoping to clinch at least 65 of the 129 seats.

“I’m certain there’ll be a majority in the Scottish Parliament of people committed to holding an independence referendum on the future of Scotland,” Swinney said on BBC radio. “If there is a majority of members from the SNP and Greens elected to parliament, that is the will and wish of the Scottish Parliament and should be respected by everyone.”

While Scotland’s proportional voting system makes it difficult for a single party to win more than 50% of the seats, the SNP managed it in 2011, leading to the 2014 Scottish referendum where Scots rejected independence.

Labour Need to Learn from Welsh Performance (7:40 a.m.)

The Labour party need to learn lessons from their performance in Wales where they have posted more resilient results than in England, according to a senior official.

Labour’s home affairs spokesman Nick Thomas-Symonds said the party need to find how to cut through to “every single community” in England as they did in Wales. Labour are the incumbent party in Wales’ devolved parliament and are set to stay in power, having equaled their best ever performance.

“We have a situation in Wales where we have a developed policy agenda and a party where there is no no-go area,” he said on Sky News. “We really do need now to transfer that to England and those parts of England where we need to do a great deal better.”

Johnson: Not Right Time for Scottish Referendum (Earlier)

Boris Johnson suggested he would reject calls for a second Scottish independence referendum even if Nicola Sturgeon secured an SNP majority at Holyrood.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Johnson said he will “see what happens” in the elections but reinforced his opposition to a new referendum on Scottish independence. “I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” he said.

It was a view echoed by his environment minister George Eustice on Saturday morning. “As we try to come out of the pandemic and focus on the economic recovery, it really isn’t the time to do constitutional tinkering,” he said on Sky News.

Sturgeon: Referendum Decision Could Go to Supreme Court (Earlier)

SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon said the push for another Scottish independence referendum could go to the U.K.’s Supreme Court.

Sturgeon said she would proceed with legislation in the Scottish parliament to mandate another referendum. If Boris Johnson wants to stop it, “it would be the case that he would have to go to the Supreme Court to challenge it,” she said on ITV.

“The absurdity of a position where a Prime Minister was going to court to overturn the democratic decision of the Scottish people? I don’t think we’ll get to that position,” she said.

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