Theresa May faces test in local elections amid controversy

Theresa May will face local elections on Thursday amid controversy over an ongoing Brexit delay and a Cabinet sacking.

With predictions that the Tories could lose more than 800 seats, Conservative high command appears braced for a difficult result.

Elections are taking place in 248 English councils outside London, and 11 local authority areas in Northern Ireland.

There are also polls for six elected mayors in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and the new North of Tyne devolved regional authority.

Councils holding elections, state of the parties
Councils holding elections, state of the parties

The poll comes as the Prime Minister has faced criticism for pushing back the Brexit date to October 31, and is embroiled in fresh controversy after dismissing Gavin Williamson as defence secretary after an inquiry into leaks from the National Security Council.

Close to 60% of the 8,425 seats up for grabs in England are currently Conservative, with a quarter held by Labour.

The last time a majority of the seats were fought over in 2015, the Tories were on an electoral high as they secured their first Commons majority since 1992 on the same day.

Most of the electoral battles are in the Tory shires or Labour strongholds in northern cities, limiting the prospects for large-scale gains by Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

The results are unlikely to be a guide for European elections scheduled for later in the month, as neither Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party nor the Remain-backing Change UK are fielding candidates on May 2.

However, Brexit is expected to play a major role in the elections.

Conservatives fear Leave-backing supporters will stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29.

Councils to watch on Thursday include Dudley, Trafford and Derby, where Labour could gain overall control, and Swindon, Great Yarmouth, Redditch and St Albans, where control could slip out of Tory hands.

The Liberal Democrats are hoping to seize Winchester.