Whether it was the result of the vaccine “bounce”, big public spending during the pandemic or the enduring effect of Brexit, Boris Johnson has had a very good couple of days.
But Tory success in the Hartlepool by-election and the personal popularity of the prime minister only tell part of the story of “Super Thursday” – hundreds of local, national and mayoral elections across the UK. Here’s what we know so far as counting is set to continue all weekend.
– The Conservatives won the north east constituency, with Jill Mortimer seizing the seat from Labour with a majority of 6,940.
The first big result that defined the narrative for the next 24 hours. In a stunning victory, the Conservatives overturned a majority of 3,500 at the general election to take the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974.
The bruising result – described as “absolutely shattering” by one shadow cabinet minister – prompted calls from across the Labour Party for a change of direction, especially from the Left of the party allied to former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Labour leader Keir Starmer pledged to do “whatever is necessary” and told his party to “stop quarrelling among ourselves”.
“I’m bitterly disappointed in the result and I take full responsibility for the results – and I will take full responsibility for fixing this,” he said.
“We have changed as a party but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.
“Very often we have been talking to ourselves instead of to the country and we have lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool.
“I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.”
– Tory Ben Houchen was re-elected as Tees Valley mayor by a landslide on the first count, taking almost 73% of the vote.
– Labour’s Ros Jones was re-elected Doncaster mayor while Joanne Anderson became Liverpool’s first black female mayor.
There was further success for the Tories in the north east with Houchen comfortably winning a second term as Tees Valley mayor.
Along with Hartlepool, that means two-thirds of the “hat trick” of results targeted by the Tories have been achieved – with the focus now on Andy Street remaining as West Midlands mayor.
In Liverpool, the city elected its first black female mayor as Labour held on to the role despite corruption allegations.
Joanne Anderson was named as the successor to Joe Anderson on Friday, after the former mayor chose not to stand following his arrest as part of a Merseyside Police fraud investigation.
And there was increased excitement over arguably the most significant mayoral battle. While many were expecting an easy victory for sitting Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey was doing much better at the ballot box than the polls suggested. A result is expected on Sunday
English local council elections
– With results available from 64 out of 143 councils, the Conservatives had a net gain of seven authorities and 155 seats, and Labour a net loss of four authorities and 142 seats.
The governing party – and one that has been in power for more than a decade – is not supposed to win by-elections. It is also not supposed to do well in local authority elections, where a mid-term drubbing is often seen as a protest vote against the current national administration.
But the rot continued for Labour. Not only did it lose seats but it lost overall control of councils, including Harlow, Dudley and Nottinghamshire. With the Conservatives continuing to make gains as council results poured in from across England, the prime minister hailed the results as support for his government’s “levelling up agenda”.
“It’s a mandate for us to continue to deliver, not just for the people of Hartlepool and the fantastic people of the north east, but for the whole of the country,” Johnson said.
Scottish parliament vote
– In Scotland, the SNP gained East Lothian from Labour and Ayr and Edinburgh Central from the Tories.
– Of the first 47 seats in the Scottish parliamentary contest to declare, 38 went to the SNP, four to Liberal Democrats, three to the Tories and two to Labour.
The SNP made gains from its rivals as it edged closer to an overall majority – but Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of a victory that would hand her a mandate for a second Scottish independence are hanging in the balance.
The SNP picked up key seats in Edinburgh Central – where former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson replaced the one time Scottish Tory boss Ruth Davidson – as well as as in Ayr and East Lothian.
But under Holyrood’s proportional representation system, those successes could see it lose seats on the regional list ballot.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Jackie Baillie held on to her Dumbarton constituency – which had been the most marginal seat in all of Scotland and a top target for the SNP.
With some constituencies still to be counted on Saturday, when the crucial regional list results will also be declared, Sturgeon said it was “not impossible”.
And while the majority of the 129 MSPs at Holyrood have still be declared, Sturgeon said it was “almost certain” the SNP would win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.
Elsewhere, former first minister and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond said the measure of his party’s success would be “our existence as a political party”, adding it is “here to stay”, as the early counting suggested it was struggling.
Welsh assembly count
– In Wales, after 30 seats had been declared Labour had 19, the Conservatives seven and Plaid Cymru four.
The picture was much brighter for Welsh Labour, where party leader Mark Drakeford declared its strong Senedd election performance as “an extraordinary set of results in extraordinary times” as the party look favourite to retain control of the Welsh government.
The party has exceeded expectations, having so far lost just one of its seats and taking Rhondda from Plaid Cymru’s former leader Leanne Wood.
Drakeford said earlier on Friday that signs of a strong Labour performance reflected the “real enthusiasm” he had encountered on doorsteps.
Labour said Plaid Cymru had “imploded” in losing its Rhondda seat to Labour’s Elizabeth Buffy Williams and failing to take target seats Llanelli and Aberconwy.
Rhondda’s outgoing MS, Wood, told ITV Wales the result was “disappointing”, but said her party ran a “clean and honest campaign”.
Labour’s strong results will minimise its reliance on other parties in order to form a government, with Plaid previously thought as the most likely to enter into a coalition with them were Labour some way short of a majority.
Only one of Wales’ so-called red wall seats, the Vale of Clwyd, fell to the Welsh Conservatives.