The Prime Minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer are in the final hunt for “every vote” after taking to the campaign trail on the eve of the “super Thursday” polls opening.
Boris Johnson said it would be “very tough” for the Conservative Party during the local elections and looked to play down his party’s chances of taking the Westminster constituency of Hartlepool in the by-election – despite recent polling putting the Tories 17 points in front of incumbents Labour.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer, asked about polling suggesting Labour was in danger of losing Hartlepool and seeing control wrestled away from the party in a number of councils across its so-called “red wall” traditional heartlands in the Midlands and North of England, admitted his rebuild would take longer than 12 months.
YouGov local election polling published last week suggested the Tories could take over as the largest party in Bolton and Dudley, while The Guardian reported that Labour sources were predicting the party could lose control of both Sunderland and Durham councils for the first time in half a century.
Sir Keir, asked by reporters on a campaign visit to Pontefract in west Yorkshire whether he might have to rethink his leadership approach if the results are poor, said: “Well, look, I took over the Labour Party after the worst general election result since 1935.
“We’ve got to rebuild into the next general election – that is the task in hand.
“This is the first test and we go into that test fighting for every vote, but I never thought we would climb the mountain we have to climb in just one year – it is going to take longer than that.”
Making his second stop of the day in Birmingham in the afternoon, Sir Keir told broadcasters he would be a leader who “carries the can” if Labour fares badly in the elections.
“We’ve got further work to do whatever the results tomorrow,” he added.
With the coronavirus pandemic delaying a host of elections by 12 months, it means there will be two years’ worth of polls taking place across Great Britain on a single day on Thursday, making for a bumper crop of results.
Voters will have their say on the make-up of English councils, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd, and decide who holds power in city halls, with a number of areas choosing regional mayors.
As part of Thursday’s slew of polls, Hartlepool will also elect a new MP as Labour looks to keep a seat that has been red since its inception in the 1970s.
The Prime Minister, who was campaigning in Stourbridge in the West Midlands on Wednesday, looked to calm talk of the Tories snatching Hartlepool, telling reporters it would be a “very tough fight” in a seat that “hasn’t been a Conservative since its inception – 46 years ago, or whatever it was”.
Asked what success would look like for the Tories in the local elections, Mr Johnson said: “It’s a very tough set of elections.
“I think when we stood last time for many of these council seats we were at a particularly high watermark, and we’ll be fighting for absolutely every vote.
“I would urge everybody in the country, get out and vote tomorrow, these are a very important set of elections.”
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, took to the streets of his own constituency on the last full day of campaigning before polling stations open their doors, making an appearance in Surbiton, south-west London.
The former cabinet minister said the usual style of campaigning for his party – which has been known for local election triumphs in recent decades – has been hampered by coronavirus restrictions.
Admitting it had been a “weird campaign”, Sir Ed told the PA news agency: “We think we can make progress and go forward, and we hope we can make gains from both Conservatives and Labour in the north and south.
“Our only challenge is we’ve not been able to talk to people in the normal way that we have in the past.”