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What is at stake in UK local voting ahead of a looming general election

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will hope he can point to successes, notably in a couple of key mayoral races.

Rishi Sunak 2LONDON: Millions of voters in England and Wales will cast their ballots on Thursday in an array of local elections that will be the last big test before a U.K. general election that all indicators show will see the Conservative Party ousted from power after 14 years.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will hope he can point to successes, notably in a couple of key mayoral races, to douse talk that the Conservative Party will change leader again before the United Kingdom’s main election, which could take place as soon as next month.

On the other hand, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer will hope Thursday’s local elections confirm what opinion polls have shown for two years — that Labour is on course for power for the first time since 2010.

“The national context going into these local elections is very good for Labour and very bad for the Conservatives,” said Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.

As is often the case in British local elections, the run-up is about expectation management, so any outperformance can be painted as a success.

That’s certainly the case with the Conservatives, who are widely predicted to lose around half of the 1,000 seats they are contesting. They have pointed out, for example, that the equivalent elections were held in 2021 when the government of then Prime Minister Boris Johnson was riding high following the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines.

Thursday’s elections are important in themselves — voters decide who will run many aspects of their daily lives, such as bin collections, the state of the roads and local crime prevention measures, for the coming years.

But with a general election looming, they will be viewed through a national prism.

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