Elections 2021: Leaders in final push for votes

Political party leaders have hit the road in England in a final push for votes ahead of Thursday’s elections.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Conservatives faced some “tough contests” but the party was “fighting for every vote”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Labour was also fighting for every vote but had “a mountain to climb” to win back support in key battlegrounds.

Polls will open at 07.00 BST on Thursday, with results due from Friday.

About 48 million people in England, Wales and Scotland will be able to take part in elections happening against the backdrop of Covid-19.

As well as polls for the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd in Wales, there are elections for seats on 143 English councils and 13 local mayors.

Thursday’s votes represent the first electoral test for parties since the Conservatives won a majority at the 2019 general election.

They will be the first votes since Sir Keir took over as Labour leader 13 months ago and Sir Ed Davey won the Liberal Democrat leadership race last August.

Campaigning has been curtailed by Covid restrictions, with large public meetings moved online and limits on groups of activists going door-to-door.

Speaking in Stourbridge, in support of the Tory candidate for West Midlands mayor, Mr Johnson said: “It is a very tough set of elections.

“When we stood last time for of these many council seats we were at a high water mark and we will be fighting for absolutely every vote.”

Asked if the Conservatives could win a “hat-trick” in the mayoral races in Tees Valley and West Midlands, and the Hartlepool by-election, he said: “These are tough contests.

“Hartlepool hasn’t been a Conservative seat since its inception. It will be a very tough fight, but I hope everybody gets out to vote.”

Mr Johnson was also asked if he would allow another independence referendum in Scotland, if pro-independence parties win a majority in the Scottish Parliament elections.

He said: “Let’s wait and see what actually happens, but I think most people in Scotland, and around the whole of the UK, feel that – as we’re coming out of pandemic together – this is not the time to have a reckless and, I think, irresponsible, second referendum.”

Sir Keir began a frantic day of campaigning on Wednesday with a visit to Pontefract to support Labour’s candidate for West Yorkshire mayor.

Later, Sir Keir will join Labour’s candidates for the mayoral races in the West Midlands and West of England.

Sir Ed Davey took the Lib Dems’ campaign to the London suburb of Surbiton, where he highlighted the party’s policies on the environment.

He described the campaign so far as “weird” because of the Covid restrictions, but added: “When we have managed to talk to people, they’re responding positively to the Liberal Democrat message, because we are community politicians.

“People know that if they get a Liberal Democrat councillor, things get done.”

Meanwhile, Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley has also been in the capital to support the party’s candidate for the Greater London mayor.

He said he was expecting more council seat gains, having picked up 40 at the last round of English local elections, and promised to speak for the “unrepresented”.

“Once people see Greens elected and make a difference, they want more,” Mr Bartley added.

The pandemic means ballots are expected to take longer than usual to count, creating greater uncertainty over when results will be declared.

Some counts will take place overnight on Thursday, including for the Hartlepool by-election, where a result is expected early on Friday.

But counting in some council areas in England will take place on Friday, or over the weekend.

A dozen of the counts for 39 police and crime commissioners elected in England will not begin until Monday.

Results for all 60 seats in the Welsh Senedd will be known on Friday.

Scotland starts counting in some areas on Friday, but there will not be a final result until Saturday, or possibly even Sunday.