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Theresa May’s Conservatives avoid London wipeout in local elections

Reuters

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party avoided a wipeout in London local elections and eked out gains in Brexit-supporting regions elsewhere, early results on Friday showed, although her Labour opponents did gain ground in the capital.

The elections are viewed as a gauge of public support for May as she faces a possible revolt in parliament over her strategy for leaving the European Union.

Partial results showed May was likely to avoid the kind of widespread losses that would dramatically weaken her authority over Conservative lawmakers ahead of key tests of her plans to pull out of the EU customs union.

May’s party held onto control of Wandsworth council — a low-tax Conservative stronghold since the time of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The council had been one of the socialist-led Labour Party’s more ambitious targets in Thursday’s vote.

Votes will decide more than 4,400 council seats, determining the makeup of 150 local government authorities who are responsible for the day-to-day provision of public services.

They do not affect seats in parliament, where May has only a slim working majority thanks to a deal with a smaller party.

The Conservatives also held the symbolic council of Westminster in the heart of London’s political district, indicating that the final scale of losses in the capital would come in at the lower end of the predicted range.

Despite retaining overall control, the Conservatives lost individual seats in Westminster and Wandsworth.

Ruling parties typically suffer losses at local elections and polls ahead of the vote predicted a bad night in London for the Conservatives after eight years in power. May is also negotiating an exit from the EU that 60 percent of the capital rejected at the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Results elsewhere in London’s 32 boroughs showed the forecast swing to Labour in the capital had materialized, although not strongly enough to inflict the heavy losses that would pose a serious headache for May.

Outside London, the Conservatives regained control of councils in the pro-Brexit regions of Peterborough and Basildon, largely at the expense of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party (UKIP).

UKIP has suffered leadership issues and struggled for a new purpose since achieving its primary political aim at the 2016 Brexit referendum when Britons decided to leave the EU.

But May’s party lost control of the highly prized council in the Trafford area of the northern city of Manchester — its only foothold in an important Labour-dominated economic region where the Conservatives have spent years trying to win support.

The overall tally, due around 1900 GMT, will offer the most complete snapshot of public opinion since an election last year in which the Conservatives suffered unexpected losses, leaving May weakened and her party arguing openly about Brexit.

May will remain under pressure from rival Conservative factions: those who want to keep close ties with the EU by staying in the customs union, and others who say anything short of a clean break is a betrayal of the Brexit referendum result.

That issue is expected to come to a head with at least one vote on it in parliament next month.