UK Conservatives Score Big Gains

LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives have scored big gains in local elections --- an auspicious sign for the party ahead of a national election next month, and bad news for rivals on both the left and the right.

Results were coming in Friday for local councils in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as mayoral competitions in several cities.

With about a quarter of the votes counted, May's party had gained control of five councils, added more than 100 new councilors and taken the new position of mayor for the city of Bristol and surrounding area in western England.

May has urged voters to give the Conservatives a bigger majority in Parliament in the June 8 national election in order to strengthen Britain's hand in exit talks with the European Union. Results from Thursday's local elections suggest the message is getting through.

John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the Conservatives were on course for their best local-election result in at least a decade, and possibly a quarter-century.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said voters "are now seeing that what this country needs is a government with a full, working majority to negotiate a good, successful exit from the European Union and to build a stronger, fairer Britain after that."

The main opposition Labour Party took a beating, suffering losses in its long-time stronghold of Wales and losing dozens of local councilors nationwide.

Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell acknowledged the party had suffered a tough night, but told ITV that the results were not "the wipeout that people expected" and insisted it is still "all to play for" in the national vote.

The right-wing U.K. Independence Party, whose animosity to the EU helped drive Britain out of the bloc, failed to hold a single seat in early counting, as voters switched to the Conservatives now that UKIP's main goal has been achieved.

UKIP deputy chairwoman Suzanne Evans acknowledged the party faces a "difficult dilemma."

"We have got what we wanted, but unfortunately we have been in a sense the victims of our own success," she told Sky News.

(KA)