UK votes in local polls dominated by cost of living crisis | world news

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britons vote Thursday in local elections that will decide the makeup of local authorities across the country — and possibly the fate of embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. in contests for thousands of local council seats in England, Scotland and Wales. Voting closes at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT), with most counting taking place on Friday. Opinion polls suggest the ruling Conservatives will lose hundreds of seats in an election seen as a barometer of public opinion.

In Northern Ireland, voters are electing a new 90-seat Assembly, with polls suggesting Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein could win the most seats and the premiership in a historic first.

Local authority elections will decide who collects rubbish, repairs potholes and runs other essential services across the country. Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said the election “is only about one thing: who do you want to lead your council?

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But many voters also have other things on their minds. Elections across the UK are being dominated by rising food and fuel prices, which have sent household bills soaring.

Opposition parties are calling on the government to do more to ease the cost of living crisis – driven by war in Ukraine, disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic aftershocks from Britain’s exit from the European Union. The centre-left Labor and the centrist Liberal Democrats are advocating a windfall tax on energy companies, which have posted record profits amid soaring oil and gas prices.

Johnson’s Tory government says taxing big companies like Shell and BP would discourage much-needed investment in renewable energy, which is key to meeting Britain’s climate commitments.

The election also comes after months of turmoil for Johnson, during which he became the first prime minister to be disciplined for breaking the law in office. He was fined 50 pounds ($62) by police for attending his own surprise birthday party in June 2020 when lockdown rules banned social gatherings.

Johnson apologized, but denies knowingly breaking the rules. He faces the possibility of more fines than other parties – police are investigating a dozen rallies – and a parliamentary inquiry into whether he misled lawmakers about his behavior.

The Prime Minister also faces discontent within his own party. A poor result for the ruling party on Thursday could lead the Tories to try to replace Johnson with a less tarnished leader.

Labor leader Keir Starmer said the government was being eaten up by “a constant drip of foolishness and scandal”.

“Their failure to continue their work would be shameful at any time,” Starmer wrote in the Daily Mirror newspaper. “But during a once-in-a-lifetime cost-of-living crisis, it’s a shame.”

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Edward L. Robinett