UK Politics: Election results leave Corbyn and May facing Brexit dilemmas

Jeremy Corbyn making a speech last year
Jeremy Corbyn needs to keep Remain supporter and attract Leave voters
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The local elections were, on balance, a draw but they leave the two main party leaders in no doubt that the big challenge facing both of them is how to handle Brexit. Max Liu reports.

"Thursday's results mean Theresa May is not in danger of facing an immediate leadership challenge - as she might have been had things gone really badly. For now, she can hang on, but there are big challenges coming down the track in the form of Brexit."

The local election results have changed very little in terms of how bettors see the two main party's prospects at the next general election. This time last week, the Conservatives were [1.9] to win most seats next time Britain goes to the polls. Now they are, erm, [1.9]. Labour are [2.2]. Neither party is expected to win a majority, with another hung parliament [2.54] the favourite.

Curtice declares local elections a draw

The nation's go-to psephologist John Curtice called the outcome of Thursday's election "a draw". On balance, that's fair, although it has to be said that the BBC appeared keen to play down Labour's successes. For example, your humble correspondent writes a stone's throw from Wandsworth Town Hall where, on Friday afternoon, Theresa May stood on the steps and hailed the local party's "success" in keeping control of the council.

Fair enough, as Labour targeted Wandsworth and deployed a significant number of activists to campaign door to door. That was one reason why, a week ago, Labour were narrow favourites to win here. What the Prime Minister didn't say on Friday, however, was that more people voted Labour than Tory in the borough, with the Conservatives hanging on to a council they've held for 40 years by virtue of the way the three wards are divided.

Elsewhere in London, Labour failed where they should have succeeded. They were expected to win in Barnet for the first time, but the Tories held on, in spite of trading at around [5.0]. Labour's group leader in the area, which has a large Jewish population, believes the antisemitism row was a factor in the outcome.

Brexit is still the big challenge for both party leaders

The Conservatives and Labour are both trying to spin the local election results in their favour. For May, it was not as a bad a night as it could have been. Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, can be encouraged by his party's gains but he'll be aware that they did not make the kind of great leap forward that would have sealed their status as a government in waiting.

For both parties, these results offer no respite from Brexit. Corbyn successfully parked the issue at last year's general election, with Labour attracting support from people who voted Remain in 2016. On Thursday, however, there were signs that Remain supporters are concerned by his unwillingness to back a second referendum on Brexit, although bettors make it [3.5] that there will be another vote on the matter by 2020.

Even in London, where Labour did pretty well, they lost council wards to the staunchly pro-Remain Liberal Democrats. Labour are still faced with the dilemma of how to please both their young, progressive, pro-Remain supporters in the cities, and retain their traditional working class base that backed Leave.

Thursday's results mean Theresa May is not in danger of facing an immediate leadership challenge - as she might have been had things gone really badly. For now, she can hang on, but there are big challenges coming down the track in the form of Brexit.

Theresa May - new leader of Blukip?

Curtice identifies one of Thursday's key trends as ex-Ukip voters returning to the Tory fold. Ukip went into Thursday's elections with 123 councils and emerged with three, leading its general secretary to compare it the "black death". Ex-Ukip supporters have returned to their natural home with the Tories, so that the party might be dubbed "Blukip." It's a far cry from the modernising Tory party of the 2000s and early 2010s under David Cameron.

So how will Theresa May lead the Tories, knowing that a considerable number of their voters back a hard Brexit, at the same time as working with Conservative MPs on both sides of the debate?

On Saturday, Conservative Home published the results of their latest next Tory leader poll. Jacob-Rees Mogg, who's [5.7] favourite on Betfair, comes top, two points ahead of Michael Gove who's [11.0] on Betfair. Both men are arch-Brexiteers and will pounce if they decide that the Tory party, which is drawing more support from Leave voters, needs a new leader who will deliver the kind of Brexit they want.

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