Keir Starmer thanked Labour activists for calling as many as 1.7 million voters in recent weeks, as his team braced themselves for a challenging weekend after polls closed in the UK’s first major elections to be held during the pandemic.

Party sources were downbeat about their prospects of holding Hartlepool in a crucial byelection, with activists reporting low turnout in Labour-voting areas. “It’s going to be a very, very difficult night,” said one party strategist, adding that Starmer would “take it on the chin” if the seat is lost for the first time in half a century.

The Labour leader hit the phones himself on Thursday after voting with his wife, Victoria, near their north London home.

Every voter in Great Britain had the opportunity to cast their ballot on Thursday. In Scotland, all 129 seats in the Holyrood parliament are up for grabs, while Wales is also electing a new parliament. In England, there are 143 councils and 13 local mayoralties in play.

Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, visit Methodist Central Hall in Westminster to cast their votes.
Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, visit Methodist Central Hall in Westminster to cast their votes. Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock

Some elections – including the London mayoralty, which Labour’s Sadiq Khan is hoping to hold – were postponed from May 2020, when the country was in lockdown because of the Covid pandemic.

Boris Johnson cast his vote in Westminster on Thursday with his partner, Carrie Symonds: a rare joint public appearance days after a scandal erupted over whether the prime minister solicited funds from donors to pay for a costly refurbishment of No 10.

Johnson urged the public to “get out and vote, folks!” after attending a polling station at Methodist Central Hall, close to the Houses of Parliament in London.

Downing Street will be closely watching the results of the critical Scottish election, with the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon hoping to win a ringing endorsement of her plan to hold a fresh referendum on independence.

The Tories are also hoping for signs that they are cementing support on local councils in the “red wall” areas of England where they won their Westminster seats for the first time in 2019.

Due to restrictions gradually easing in recent weeks, canvassers have been able to deliver leaflets and carry out door-to-door campaigning, though large-scale rallies have not been possible.

With the Commons in recess to allow MPs to campaign, politicians and activists fanned out across the country in a last-minute “get out the vote” drive on Thursday. Voters were advised to take their own pencil to the polling station, to help minimise the risk of Covid contamination.

The elections – the first nationwide poll since Starmer took over as leader year ago – are widely viewed in Labour as a key electoral test of his leadership, and earlier in the week he said he would “carry the can” for the party’s performance.

Starmer’s team hope that by the time all the results are published, “red shoots” in other parts of the country – such as southwest England – will offset the feared loss of Hartlepool.

Labour is expected to hold on to the London and Greater Manchester mayoralties – though there were reports of weak turnout in the capital – but the Tories hope Andy Street can hold on in the West Midlands.

They also hope Ben Houchen can win Teesside again. Houchen’s surprise victory in 2017 helped his party establish a bridgehead in north-east England, and he has been a vocal advocate of extra investment in the local area, helped by high-profile visits from cabinet ministers.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, who has been in charge since August 2020, will also face scrutiny over his party’s performance in the coming days.

Davey’s party hopes to pick up council seats in areas including Sunderland in the north-east – which he visited during the campaign – as well as in its traditional strongholds of the south-west.

The Greens are chasing new council seats in areas beyond their traditional territories, for example northern towns like Bolton and Knowsley, where they hope to tempt disaffected Labour voters.

In the London mayoral election, the Greens are aiming to again beat the Lib Dems to third place, with one recent poll putting their candidate, Siân Berry, on twice the support of the Lib Dems’ Luisa Porritt – though in other polls Porritt is ahead.

Results for English councils are expected to be announced throughout Friday, with the outcome in Scotland and Wales not expected to be clear until the weekend.

Westminster MPs will return to the Commons next week for the Queen’s speech, in which she will set out the UK government’s priorities for the coming months. Johnson hopes to switch the focus away from the pandemic to his promises to “build back better” and “level up” the country.

Contributors

Heather Stewart and Kevin Rawlinson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
It should be Super Thursday for local elections but London still holds the reins | Rafael Behr
Local and mayoral elections feel all too ceremonial, because real power always seems to lie elsewhere, says Guardian columnist Rafael Behr

Rafael Behr

31, Mar, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Keir Starmer vows to clean up British politics after Tory sleaze rows
Labour leader plans to link reports of corruption and cronyism to effect on ordinary people as elections near

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

03, May, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Voters head to polls across Scotland, Wales and England for devolved and local elections – as it happened
Latest updates: ballots cast in largest test of political opinion outside of a general election

Kevin Rawlinson (now) and Damien Gayle (earlier)

06, May, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
Local elections: Labour must take advantage of changing demographics
Analysis: party allegiances are shifting all over England and Keir Starmer has to ensure he makes the most of favourable trends

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

04, May, 2021 @6:59 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer under pressure from Labour left after ‘disappointing night’
Leader’s allies dismiss calls, saying he needs to move even more rapidly away from Corbyn era

Peter Walker Political correspondent

07, May, 2021 @2:12 PM

Article image
Elections 2021: Leanne Wood loses Rhondda; Sturgeon says SNP majority was ‘very long shot’ – live
Reactions and all the latest results after Thursday’s elections in Scotland, England and Wales

Nadeem Badshah (now) and Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

07, May, 2021 @9:41 PM

Article image
Labour’s victories show importance of localism and positive vision
Analysis: on a poor night for party, lesson from areas where it did well is that it cannot win on negativity alone

Helen Pidd North of England editor

08, May, 2021 @2:29 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer plays down Labour hopes for 6 May elections
Leader says he has a ‘mountain’ to climb after 2019 general election but will take ‘full responsibility’

Aubrey Allegretti

04, May, 2021 @9:49 AM

Article image
Keir Starmer concedes Labour has lost the trust of working people
Leader says party considering moving HQ out of London to show it represents the whole country after May election defeats

Heather Stewart and Peter Walker

07, May, 2021 @6:05 PM

Article image
Second SNP MP defects to Alex Salmond's Alba party
Neale Hanvey follows Kenny MacAskill in joining new independence-focused Scottish party

Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

28, Mar, 2021 @4:27 PM