May's Conservatives Face Big Losses in U.K. Local Elections

(Bloomberg) --

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party faces big losses in local elections on Thursday as voters register a protest against her handling of Brexit.

More than 8,000 council seats are up for grabs in mainly rural parts of England. Not all local votes are held at the same time, and this year’s batch are predominantly Conservative-held, making it “target practice on Tory territory,” according to Robert Hayward, a Tory lord known for his electoral number-crunching.

"It’s going to be a really difficult night," influential Conservative backbench lawmaker Nicky Morgan said late Wednesday in an interview on ITV’s "Peston" show. "Anybody who’s been on the doorstep recently will know that the national politics is having a difficult impact" on local politics.

Electoral analysts including Hayward predict the Tories will lose 400 to 800 seats, with the traditional third party of U.K. politics, the Liberal Democrats, likely to be the main beneficiaries, and the main opposition Labour Party also gaining seats.

Downplaying Brexit

To be sure, the Conservatives are starting from a high bar. The equivalent elections four years ago coincided with the general election won by May’s Tory predecessor, David Cameron, with an unexpected majority. Then, the Tories gained seats -- unusual for a party that had been in government for five years. It’s more normal for governing parties to lose seats in local elections as voters register a protest.

This time around, there’s no national vote to boost turnout, and May’s failure to get a Brexit deal through Parliament is likely to weigh on her party’s prospects. Tories this week have been trying to downplay the importance of Brexit in the local polls, saying they should be about local issues, and that councilors shouldn’t be punished because of the state of national politics.

May's Conservatives Face Big Losses in U.K. Local Elections

Adding to the Tories’ woes, May on Wednesday sacked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson over the leak of details from a meeting of Britain’s National Security Council, something he denies.

Hayward predicts the Tories will lose 800 seats, with the Liberal Democrats gaining 500 and Labour 300. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., with results expected to start coming in after midnight, and continue until late Friday or early Saturday.

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