Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Local Elections Could Weaken Major's Hold on His Party

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

British Local Elections Could Weaken Major's Hold on His Party

Article excerpt

JOHN MAJOR'S future as prime minister is likely to be decided at local council elections to be held in London and other centers a month from now.

If his party's candidates do badly in nationwide polls on May 5, scores of Conservative parliamentarians say they are likely to back a challenge to his leadership.

Officials of the Conservative Party, which has ruled the country at the national level since 1979, privately concede that the local election results in London could be crucial. If enough voters in the British capital switch to rival parties in the 32 boroughs where polling will take place, the days of the man who succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990 probably will be numbered.

Four London boroughs, including Westminster, where Parliament resides, currently are held by the Conservatives with slender majorities. An opinion poll conducted by the opposition Labour Party on April 3 suggested that the Conservatives were in for a drubbing in London and many other centers.

The poll put Labour 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives, and suggested that in several areas the centrist Liberal Democrats would push the Conservatives into third place.

John Smith, the Labour Party leader, is forecasting a massive swing against the Conservatives in London. He says the vote will be a referendum on Mr. Major's leadership and on the government's stewardship during 15 years continuously in power.

The Conservatives currently hold 12 of the capital's boroughs against Labour's 15 and the Liberal Democrats' three. Two others are under divided control.

Four years ago the Conservatives did well in London local elections, gaining 76 council seats. But the political mood in the capital has clearly changed.

A Conservative councillor in Brent, a key battleground on the outskirts of London, says his party was "virtually certain" to lose control of the local council, "unless there is a miracle."

The councillor says the main problems for the Conservatives were the prime minister's low standing with voters and the government's decision to impose heavy tax increases nationwide, starting April 6. …

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