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UK Conservatives lose London strongholds, in blow to Johnson

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s governing Conservatives suffered local election losses on Friday in their few London strongholds and other parts of the United Kingdom – results that will pile more pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson amid ethics scandals and a worsening economic picture.

Voting held on Thursday for thousands of seats on more than 200 local councils decided who will oversee garbage collection and the filling of potholes, but was also an important barometer of public opinion ahead of Britain’s next national election, which must be held by 2024.

The left-of-centre opposition Labour Party, which has been out of power nationally since 2010, won control of Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster, three London boroughs long held by the Conservatives, and also made gains in Wales and Scotland, as well as some regions of England.

Johnson’s party also lost ground to the centrist Liberal Democrats in the Conservatives’ southern England heartlands, where many middle-class voters are opposed to Brexit – a cause Johnson championed – and dismayed by lockdown rule-breaking by the prime minister and sexual misconduct allegations against other senior Tories.

With results in from most districts in England, Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives had lost more than 450 council seats and lost control of 10 local authorities to either Labour or the  Liberal Democrats.

“We are haemorrhaging support in parts of the country. There’s some serious issues going on,” said Conservative lawmaker Tobias Ellwood.

The election came after months of turmoil for Johnson, in which he became the first prime minister to be sanctioned for breaking the law in office. He was fined GBP50 (USD62) by police for attending his own surprise birthday party in June 2020 when lockdown rules barred social gatherings.

“The issue of ‘partygate’ kept coming up as a reason why many Conservative supporters were staying at home or were switching to a protest vote,” said Conservative lawmaker David Simmonds.

Johnson has apologised but denies knowingly breaking the rules. He faces the possibility of more fines over other parties – police are investigating a dozen gatherings – and a parliamentary investigation into whether he misled lawmakers about his behaviour.

The prime minister tried to shrug off the losses as midterm blues.