The polls have now closed after a ‘Super Thursday’ of elections which could reshape the political landscape across the UK, with the Tories hoping for a Labour meltdown and Sir Keir Starmer trying to avoid a battering.
Voting stopped at 10pm with all eyes now turning first to the result of the Hartlepool by-election.
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are hoping to snatch the seat from Labour which has held the constituency since its inception in the 1970s.
A victory for the Tories would steady Mr Johnson’s premiership after a tumultuous few weeks littered with various rows.
A win for Sir Keir would buy him some much-needed breathing space as he tries to persuade his internal party critics he can lead Labour back to power at the general election in 2024.
However, the Labour leader is said to be preparing a brutal reshuffle of his shadow cabinet within days as he braces for a bruising set of results after a YouGov poll gave the Tories a 10 point overall lead heading into ‘Super Thursday’.
Among those facing the chop are shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, who has been criticised for failing to land a blow on Rishi Sunak, and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.
Sir Keir is sounding out high-profile figures, including former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper, about a possible return to the Labour frontbench.
Frontbenchers regarded as strong media performers such as shadow schools minister Wes Streeting are being tipped for promotion.
Sir Keir has said he will ‘carry the can’ if the local election results go badly, but he is expected to try to revitalise his top team amid concerns many of them have been under-performing.
Another being lined up for the sack is thought to be shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz, with a reshuffle pencilled in for the next week.
In a sign that Sir Keir is expecting a difficult set of results, a Labour source said: ‘These were always going to be tough elections for Labour. Keir has always been honest about the mountain we must climb to rebuild trust to win the next general election.’
The Hartlepool by-election result is expected in the early hours of Friday morning and will be seen as a barometer for how the two main parties could do as the results of various elections trickle in over the next four days.
The Conservatives sought to play down expectations as polls closed, with a Tory source saying it was ‘looking tough in Hartlepool’ as ‘Labour have flooded the area with activists’.
The source said there was a ‘mixed picture in elections across the country’ and suggested Labour had ‘done really well on their expectation management’.
However, Pensions Minister Guy Opperman painted a much more optimistic picture for the Tories as he predicted shortly after the polls closed that Jill Mortimer will win Hartlepool for the Conservatives.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon faces a nervous wait to find out if the SNP has won a Holyrood majority – seen as crucial to her hopes of forcing a second independence referendum.
Boris Johnson, pictured arriving at a polling station in London with his partner Carrie Symonds today, and the Tories are hoping to snatch Hartlepool from the Labour Party which has held the constituency since its inception in the 1970s
A win in Hartlepool for Sir Keir Starmer, pictured walking to a polling station with his partner Victoria, would buy him some breathing space as he tries to persuade his internal party critics he can lead Labour back to power at the general election in 2024
Voting stopped at 10pm with all eyes now turning first to the result of the Hartlepool by-election. Election officials in the town are pictured waiting for ballot boxes to arrive
Coronavirus protocols mean this year’s election votes will take longer to count than usual. Ballot boxes are pictured being cleaned on arrival at a count in Sunderland
The Tories are hoping for a strong set of results across the UK after a YouGov poll gave the Conservative Party a 10 point lead heading into today’s votes
The coronavirus pandemic resulted in last year’s elections being delayed by 12 months.
That means that two years’ worth of polls took place across the UK today, making for a bumper crop of results.
Voters have had their say on the make-up of English councils, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd as well as in a wave of mayoral contests, including in London.
The Hartlepool by-election is expected to be the first major result announced as social distancing rules and coronavirus protocols like cleaning ballot boxes make counting slower than usual.
Whichever way the by-election goes, it will have significant ramifications for Sir Keir and Mr Johnson.
Opinion polls suggested the Tories were on course to win the seat for the first time ever, with one survey putting the party 17 points ahead of Labour.
Mr Johnson sought to dampen expectations ahead of polling day as he said the contest looked like it would be a ‘very tough fight’.
But a victory in the seat for the Tories would allow Mr Johnson to deliver a hammer blow to his rival Sir Keir.
Defeat in Hartlepool for Labour would inevitably reignite questions over the direction of the party under Sir Keir amid growing discontent among some left-wing activists.
Polling suggested that Labour could lose Hartlepool as well as control of a number of councils across its ‘Red Wall’ heartlands in the Midlands and North of England.
Sir Keir said during the campaign that his rebuild of the party would take longer than 12 months.
He stressed he had taken over the leadership after the party’s worst general election result since 1935 and ‘we’ve got to rebuild into the next general election – that is the task in hand’.
Sir Keir said: ‘This is the first test and we go into that test fighting for every vote, but I never thought we would climb the mountain we have to climb in just one year – it is going to take longer than that.’
However, losing ground instead of gaining it at today’s elections would represent a devastating set of results for Sir Keir as he tries to lay the foundations for a general election victory in 2024.
He said on Wednesday that he would take responsibility, regardless of how the elections play out.
‘I take full responsibility for everything the Labour Party does, including the elections whatever they are tomorrow,’ he said.
‘And for me it’s very important – it’s the same approach I took when I was director of public prosecutions running the Crown Prosecution Service for five years, which is when things go right, the leader takes the plaudits; when they don’t go right, the leader carries the can and takes responsibility.’
Sir Keir’s allies tonight said they were expecting civil war to break out in the party if election results are as gloomy as forecast by some opinion polls.
The hard Left of the party were preparing for a possible coup in anticipation, while moderates will argue that Sir Keir must ditch policies first drawn up under Jeremy Corbyn to win back voters.
Voters today had their say on the make-up of English councils, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd as well as in a wave of mayoral contests, including in London
Nicola Sturgeon faces a nervous wait to find out if the SNP has won a Holyrood majority – viewed as crucial to her independence push
Bullish Conservative MPs who had been on the ground in Hartlepool claimed they had noticed a ‘clear swing’ towards their party as they predicted a bad night for Sir Keir.
‘If you thought the bottom of Labour was Corbyn then you are wrong,’ one told MailOnline.
Labour activists doorknocking in the constituency sounded relentlessly glum.
‘We are suffering from Long Corbyn,’ one senior figure said in a grim coronavirus analogy. ‘It is going to be really difficult… we will find out tonight whether we have hit bottom.’
Sir Keir voted at a polling station inside a community support centre in north London today, accompanied by his wife Victoria. Asked by a reporter how he was feeling, the Labour leader said: ‘Good.’
Sir Keir tweeted when the polls closed: ‘Huge thank you to all the incredible Labour Party members who have given up their time to campaign in these elections. You’re an inspiration.’
Mr Johnson had tried to temper the expectations of Tory activists earlier this week after he said the elections would be ‘very tough’.
‘I think when we stood last time for many of these council seats we were at a particularly high watermark, and we’ll be fighting for absolutely every vote,’ he had said.
The elections came after Mr Johnson faced a number of weeks of damaging headlines over the Covid crisis, a Whitehall lobbying row and controversy over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
Many senior Tory figures believed the rows were only of interest in the ‘Westminster bubble’ and they will be hoping that they are proved correct after the nation went to the ballot box.
Meanwhile, in Scotland the SNP will be hoping to have strengthened its position in Holyrood as Ms Sturgeon pushes for a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum.
A number of opinion polls in the run up to ‘Super Thursday’ suggested the SNP was on course to win a majority.
Ms Sturgeon believes winning a majority would give her a mandate to hold another border poll.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly rejected calls for another independence vote, arguing the first one was supposed to be a once in a generation event.
But Ms Sturgeon believes an SNP majority would force the PM to reconsider.
The SNP leader said after the polls closed tonight that it had been ‘an election like no other’ as she laid down the gauntlet to Mr Johnson on independence.
She said: ‘At this election the SNP have also offered the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose their future once the Covid crisis has passed.
‘If, when the ballots are counted, there is a parliamentary majority for that choice then when the crisis has passed that democratic mandate must be respected.’
Authorities have found it difficult to predict when results will come in because they are unsure how long counting will take because of social distancing requirements.
The results of all of the UK’s elections are not expected to be finalised until Monday.
Most of the seats in the Holyrood election are expected to count during the day on Friday, with results starting at lunchtime and peaking in the evening.
In London, the result of the race for City Hall may come on Saturday but it could potentially be Sunday. Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan is hoping to secure a second term by beating Tory rival Shaun Bailey, pictured arriving at a polling station with his wife Ellie today
The Tories are expected to find out on Friday night if Ben Houchen has held on as Tees Valley mayor. He is pictured alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock
However, some areas are expected to count votes during the day on Saturday, with results due from lunchtime.
Results from the eight regional proportional representation top-up seats are expected on Saturday night.
Counting for the Welsh Assembly elections is expected to take place on Friday with results in the afternoon and evening.
In London, the result of the race for City Hall may come on Saturday but it could potentially be Sunday as Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan tries to secure a second term by defeating Tory rival Shaun Bailey.
The Tories are expected to find out on Friday night if Ben Houchen has held on as Tees Valley mayor, in what is seen as a key race and a barometer for how the party is performing in the former ‘Red Wall’ constituencies that Labour lost to the Tories in the 2019 general election.
The parties will face another by-election if Labour MP Tracy Brabin succeeds in her bid to become West Yorkshire mayor, as expected.
It means she will stand down from her Batley and Spen constituency, which she held in 2019 with a small majority of 3,525 over the Tories.
Labour figures have suggested the party could delay holding a by-election until the autumn in a bid to avoid losing another brick in the ‘Red Wall’.
Elections took place at 143 English councils, with 19 expected to count votes overnight and the majority counting during the day on Friday.
The results of 39 police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales are expected to be announced across Friday, Saturday and Sunday.