LONDON (AP) — People in Britain voted 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 were open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. (2100GMT) in contests for thousands of seats on 200 local authorities in in England, Scotland and Wales. Most results are due Friday.
Opinion polls suggest the governing Conservatives will lose hundreds of seats in elections that are considered a barometer of public opinion.
In Northern Ireland, voters are electing a new 90-seat Assembly, with polls suggesting the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein could win the largest number of seats, and the post of first minister, in what would be a historic first.
The local-authority elections will decide who collects garbage, fixes potholes and handles other essential services across the country.
Johnson, who voted at a polling station near his 10 Downing St. residence — accompanied by his dog, Dilyn — said in a social media video that “it’s Conservatives who deliver, Conservatives who get the bins collected."
But many voters also have other things on their mind. Across the U.K., the elections are dominated by increasing prices for food and fuel, which have sent household bills soaring.
Opposition parties are demanding the government to do more to ease the cost-of-living crunch — driven by the war in Ukraine, COVID-19 pandemic disruption and economic aftershocks from Britain’s exit from the European Union. Both left-of-center Labour and the centrist Liberal Democrats advocate a windfall tax on energy companies, which have reported record profits amid rocketing oil and gas prices.
Johnson’s Conservative government argues taxing big firms like Shell and BP would deter much-needed investment in renewable energy that’s key to meeting Britain’s climate commitments.
The election also comes after months of turmoil for Johnson, in which he became the first prime minister to be sanctioned 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 barred social gatherings.
Johnson has apologized, but denies knowingly breaking the rules. He faces the possibility of more fines over other parties — police are investigating a dozen gatherings — and a parliamentary investigation into whether he misled lawmakers about his behavior.
The prime minister also faces discontent within his own party. A bad result for the governing party on Thursday could lead Conservatives to try to replace Johnson with a less tarnished leader.
Many will be anxiously watching to see whether Labour can win key Conservative-held councils in London and win back voters in working-class northern England - areas that Johnson successfully wooed in the 2019 general election.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government was consumed by “a constant drip-drip of sleaze and scandal.”
“Their failure to get on with their jobs 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 disgrace.”