Friday briefing: Mixed picture can’t obscure local anger with Boris Johnson | Local elections

Hello, and happy local election results day from your caffeine-addled, sugared-up, banana-stuffed correspondent at the count in Silksworth Sports Centre in Sunderland, where Labour had a pretty average night – but fears of losing control of an iconic council to the Conservatives did not materialise, and only the Liberal Democrats picked up any seats.

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As we send this email, it’s that same sort of messy picture across the country: disappointment but not catastrophe for the Conservatives, some Labour successes coming with plenty of big asterisks attached, and the Liberal Democrats and the Greens the only parties to really be able to point to unambiguous success.

Shortly before 7am, the Tories had lost 100 seats. Labour had gained 57, the Lib Dems 46, and the Greens 22. It’s tricky to draw hard and fast conclusions when there’s so much yet to come, but one way to see the mood so far is as anti-Tory – but not quite pro-Labour.

The story’s moving quickly, and there’s plenty more of it to come today – so I won’t be offended if you want to check in on Andy Sparrow’s indispensable live blog, or take a look at the latest results here. If you want to catch up on what we’ve learned so far, that’s coming up after the rest of the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Ukraine | Russia has unleashed heavy artillery barrages against multiple Ukrainian positions in the south and east of the country, with conflicting claims over whether Russian forces were attempting to storm the last Ukrainian positions in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

  2. Economy | Interest rates have once again been raised by the Bank of England to 1% – a 13-year high – to curb inflation. Inflation in the UK hit 7% in March, the highest level in three decades.

  3. Monarchy | The Queen is to miss the royal garden party season in her platinum jubilee year, Buckingham Palace said. The 96-year-old monarch has been experiencing mobility issues in recent months.

  4. Coronavirus | Ministers have tried to “explain away” disproportionality in death rates during the pandemic, the head of the Covid-19 public inquiry has been told in a leaked letter from black, Asian and minority ethnic leaders.

  5. Baby P | The Parole Board rejected an appeal by justice secretary Dominic Raab against the release from prison of Tracey Connelly, the mother of Baby P, who died after months of abuse. Raab claimed the decision proved the Parole Board needs a “fundamental overhaul”.

In depth: what just happened?

Boris Johnson on his way to vote on Thursday.
Boris Johnson on his way to vote on Thursday. Photograph: Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Sunderland seems like a constituency that gets at something bigger: to win the next election, Labour needs to regain strength in the “red wall” – but even as it tries to make progress in areas like this, where it has suffered shocking losses in recent years, it is still worrying about losing ground.

In the end, Labour held on to overall control comfortably – and the only seat it lost was to the Lib Dems, who took another off the Tories. But the scenes of jubilation as the results came suggested that nobody thought it was a sure thing. After the result, a councillor told me: “Look, we’ve won, and that’s great, but anyone who says there weren’t nerves is having a laugh.”

Sunderland is a tiny part of the national picture – and even when you zoom out you find huge swathes of the map, including all of Scotland and Wales and the Stormont election in Northern Ireland, yet to be filled in. But there are some provisional takeaways:

The results don’t suggest that Labour is on course for a majority in Westminster

Probably the hardest part of the results to interpret so far is what’s happened in the fabled “red wall”, the seats in Brexit-supporting, mostly northern areas where Labour’s vote collapsed in the last general election.

“It’s not clearcut,” said Rowena Mason, the Guardian’s deputy political editor, who drew the night shift. “You see Labour doing well in this new unitary authority in Cumberland – but then you see them fail to take back control of somewhere like Hartlepool, or Bolton.

“There’s not the sort of clear story of Labour progress so far that you would need to win a general election. You can’t see them as a homogenous block – there are local issues in play, and differences between urban and rural areas.”

James Johnson, a former Downing Street pollster, argued that Labour’s performance was not a failure to win back the “red wall” – because its performance was in seats that last came up in 2018, before the collapse in Labour support in those places. That means that an apparently static performance could be better than it looks. But it still appears to be a long way from where the party needs to be confident of winning a Westminster majority.

Labour has made real progress in London

If the picture elsewhere in England was complicated, the story in London was simple: it was a good night for Labour. Most dramatically, they took control of Wandsworth council after 44 years of Tory control – and Westminster, a genuine surprise. They took Barnet. The Conservatives hung on to Hillingdon, but lost four seats. And there were reports that of their 11 councillors in Richmond, they lost all but one. (Mind you, that’s all Lib Dems – Labour don’t have a seat there either.)

Keir and Victoria Starmer after voting on Thursday.
Keir and Victoria Starmer after voting on Thursday. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Boris Johnson was once feted as the Tory who could win over London’s 9 million voters; now he is toxic in most of the capital, which elects one in nine British MPs.

Defeated Tories are very angry with Boris Johnson

Maybe the most uncomfortable part of the night for the prime minister is the number of disappointed local Conservative figures who blame him squarely for their losses. In Sunderland, Conservative group leader Antony Mullen seemed pretty angry as he spoke. “We’ve come close in a number of seats, and were it not for the national picture – Partygate – I think we would have won them,” he told me. “I can only put it down to that. I think a lot of Conservative voters were staying at home.” He repeated a call for Johnson to resign.

Among a number of other examples, in the new council area of Cumberland, where Labour took the council despite all three MPs in the area being Conservative, local Tory leader John Mallinson called for Johnson to be replaced and said he could understand why voters “no longer have the confidence that their prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth”.

Mallinson’s interview felt like one which will be replayed on news bulletins all day. And we’re likely to see Tory MPs loyal to Johnson asked if they’re really telling bruised local candidates that they don’t understand why they’ve lost. But will they act? “I think this result so far leaves it in the balance,” said Rowena. “A lot of them have been looking for an excuse … On the other hand they may feel that more fines over Partygate would strengthen their case.”

Liberal Democrats, Greens, and independents had a good night

Seven years after their post-coalition local election meltdown, the Lib Dems seem to be finally making progress, taking Hull council from Labour, denying the Tories overall control in West Oxfordshire, and taking nearly 50 seats overall so far. The Greens have more than doubled their starting tally in the seats being contested already.

Meanwhile, at 3.30am, John Curtice said that “independent candidates in key wards have done remarkably well”, taking 26% of the vote where they have stood. The smaller parties have been particularly influential in the south so far, where they account for all of what Sky News calculates is a 26% loss in average share for the Conservatives.

All of that chimes with the sense on the ground in Sunderland that there is a huge amount to play for before any general election – and that the local elections may end up looking like a contest between protest and inertia. The question now is whether anybody can break that holding pattern.

“I’m pig-sick of Labour here and I’m pig-sick of the Tories in London,” said Simon, a 62-year-old on his way to the polls in Sunderland’s Silksworth ward last night. “I don’t know why I’m bothering to vote at all.”


Football | Mixed success for the British team’s in Europe last night, as Rangers defeated RB Leipzig 3-1 to qualify for the Europa League final, where they will face Frankfurt who enjoyed a comfortable night against 10-man West Ham, to win 1-0.

Football | Barney Ronay writes that systemic failures and the lack of a world class centre-forward are thwarting Manchester City’s Champions League dreams: “This is not bad luck or an off-day. This is profligacy by design.”

Cricket | Essex have been fined £50,000 after an investigation into allegedly racist language used by the former chair John Faragher during a board meeting five years ago. Faragher denied using a racist epithet but the club pleaded guilty to two breaches of the ECB’s directives.

What else we’ve been reading

  • Donald Trump may have lost the election in 2020 but his legacy still hangs over the Republican party. Lloyd Green takes a look at how one-time Trump critic JD Vance won the Ohio Republican Senate nomination by getting the seemingly coveted Trump endorsement. Nimo

  • Andy Beckett writes persuasively about the demise of Boris Johnson as a politician who can sell the future: “As his position weakens, so does the allure of his promises … As his future has darkened, Johnson has retreated into his other comfort zone: the distant past”. Archie

  • Adam Gabbatt’s piece about the man who gets paid to wait in line so that rich people don’t have to is funny, surreal, extremely capitalist, and weirdly moving. I can’t decide if it’s bleaker that Hamilton was his career high or that there were clients who had him wait for their vaccines. Archie

  • Crop circles have historically been shrouded in mystery. Were aliens trying to communicate with us? Were they a symbol of the end times? Author Benjamin Myers argues that there’s nothing conspiratorial going on here – instead they should be treated as radical pieces of anticapitalist art. Nimo

  • Guardian reporter Maanvi Singh talked to the most vulnerable and marginalised houseless people in a California encampment. The dire living circumstances are one microcosm of the state’s deepening homelessness crisis. Nimo

The front pages

Guardian front page, 6 May 2022
Guardian front page, 6 May 2022 Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian front-page lead in print today is “Bank raises interest rates and warns inflation will hit 10%”. “Quadruple whammy – why won’t they help?” asks the Mirror of Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson, referring to interest rates, inflation, energy bills and unemployment. “Slash taxes to stave off recession, Sunak urged” says the Times. While the Daily Mail has “Families set for record squeeze”. The i calculates that “Families face £1,200 hit – but no help before Budget”. “Hold on to your hats! Recession looms” – that’s the Express. “Bank warns of recession and highest inflation in 40 years” says the Telegraph, while the Metro has “Inflation to top 10%”. In the Financial Times: BoE warns of household pain and recession this year as rates hit 1%. The Sun’s lead is about the Three Lions football anthem: “It’s come home” says the paper as “FA flakes cave in” on their “plot” to replace it.

Something for the weekend

Arcade Fire, who have returned with their new album We.
Arcade Fire, who have returned with their new album We. Photograph: Michael Marcelle

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

The Dry (BritBox)
“Like Normal People, with which this dramedy about a recovering alcoholic in Dublin shares a production company, there’s a great deal of melancholia, emotional integrity and good-looking folk. The lurches from comedy to tragedy occasionally feel jarring, but mostly they’re vital and authentic” – Chitra Ramaswamy

Arcade Fire – We
“This is some of Arcade Fire’s most straightforward music to date, reliant on tried-and-tested techniques for rousing vast crowds. But even if We isn’t a return to the standards they reached on their debut album Funeral, it’s an improvement on its predecessor” – Alexis Petridis

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
“There’s genial high-energy panache as Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Marvel’s mindbending surgeon turned superhero, though infinite realities tend to reduce the dramatic impact of any one single reality, and reduces what there is at stake in a given situation. Nonetheless, it’s handled with lightness and fun” – Peter Bradshaw

Deliver Us from Ervil
“How did Colonia LeBaron go from being a Mormon community to a place where organised crime thrived? Host Jesse Hyde looks at the Mexican town’s history since the 1950s, tracing the story of a utopia that went very wrong” – Hannah Verdier

Today in Focus

Jason Williams
Photograph: Annie Flanagan/The Guardian

The Guardian’s US southern bureau chief, Oliver Laughland, has spent the past six months following what happened when a progressive Black district attorney called Jason Williams was elected in Louisiana, the heart of the deep south. Jason had promised sweeping reforms across New Orleans, and part of that change involved opening up a civil rights division to look over old cases. Kuantay Reeder has been in Louisiana’s ‘Angola’ prison since 1995 for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Will the division be able to help him?

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Mike Duxbury and Ness Shillito, co-founders of Inclusive Farm, with their pigs.
Mike Duxbury and Ness Shillito, co-founders of Inclusive Farm, with their pigs. Photograph: Alex Carl Turner/The Guardian

Mike Duxbury, a farmer who lost his sight at the age of 6, has set up a farm that has been adapted to help train people with disabilities for a career in agriculture. Inclusive Farm, which is in Bedfordshire, is already helping their first 14 students become qualified in various agriculture and animal care courses. Duxbury believes that creating an environment where all kinds of people are welcomed can help revolutionise farming: “[They] can bring something new to farming and make it more modern, wider-thinking and more 21st-century.”

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