Thu, 17 Jun 2021

LONDON, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Millions of voters in Britain are going to polling stations for local elections in what political commentators have dubbed as the Super Thursday, which is seen as a major test for Britain's main political party leaders.

More than 5,000 seats are up for grabs in city hall and town hall elections, with the mayor of London and 12 provincial mayors along with police and crime commissioners also being elected.

People in Scotland and Wales will also decide the shape of their devolved parliaments, and in the northern English town of Hartlepool there will be a by-election to choose a new lawmaker for the Westminster parliament.

Eagerly awaiting the results when the votes are counted Friday and Saturday will be the British prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, and the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, as well as Scotland's first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, among others.

"In a sense Johnson starts ahead, but this will be the first big test for Starmer because he needs to demonstrate an improvement on his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn," elections expert Matt Cole from the University of Birmingham told Xinhua.

In a commentary published Tuesday, the London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper said: "With so many different electoral layers piled on top of each other, it's harder than ever to predict what the impact of Thursday will be."

Elections due last year were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic until now, resulting in multiple elections in most towns and cities.

Cole said the real questions are what is the election really about.

"Is it optimism about coming out of the COVID-19 lockdown, or longer term anxieties about the economy when the measures of support taken by the government need to be paid for?"

Cole said it will also be a real test of whether the impact of the so-called "Red Wall" successes of Johnson's Conservative Party in the 2019 snap general election has remained or gone away.

Johnson's party made spectacular gains in traditional Labour seats in that election, in what were mainly pro-Brexit seats.

"In that respect Hartlepool will be a litmus test, showing whether the successes were a result of Brexit being agreed and signed, or will it have echoes that determine future politics. It's about a style of politics rather than getting Brexit done," Cole added.

"How long the ripples of Brexit will last in the political pond is the question."

Meanwhile, Labour's Sadiq Khan faces an election for Britain's top job in local government as mayor of London, with polls giving him a comfortable lead over the Conservative candidate and other challengers. Most political commentators expect Khan to remain as mayor of London.

In Scotland, Sturgeon hopes to win seats in the devolved Scottish parliament.

Currently, the SNP holds 61 of the 129 seats. Sturgeon is hoping some gains will give her an overall majority at Holyrood to boost her calls for a new referendum on independence for Scotland from Britain.

The Conservatives, with 30 members, have second most number of seats, ahead of Labour's 23.

Meanwhile, in Wales, the Conservatives are pushing hard to challenge the governing Labour Party in the Welsh Parliament.

According to observers, a Conservative victory would be a huge approval for Johnson's twin-track campaign focusing on the massive opportunities of Brexit and the success of the COVID-19 vaccination program.

On the other hand, defeat for Starmer, especially in Hartlepool, held by Labour since 1974 when the constituency was created, would be a significant blow and set the tone for other results.

Johnson and the Conservatives are currently enjoying a lead in popularity according to a number of opinion polls in recent days. The latest by pollsters Survation gives the Conservatives a 17-point lead over Labour.

However, given the unpredictability of polls, it remains to be seen how the remake-up of council chambers as well as devolved governments will impact the political landscape in Britain, said analysts.

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