Voters go to the polls to hold a series of elections that could shake up British politics and have a profound impact on the future of the UK.
On what is known as Super Thursday, ballots will be cast across the UK in the largest test of political opinion outside of a general election, with the future of the Labor Party and the state of the Union among the topical subjects.
Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon’s push for a second independence referendum means that much is at stake in the Holyrood competition.
In England, as well as in local and mayoral competitions, the general election in Hartlepool will show the progress Labor has made in regaining votes in its former northern heartland.
Hartlepool was held by Labor by a majority of 3,595 in 2019, despite the collapse of other bricks in what is known as the “red wall” – in part due to the Brexit party’s division of Tory votes.
A defeat would be a blow to Sir Keir Starmer and would bring a ruling party a rare by-election win.
Boris Johnson tried to control pre-election expectations by downplaying his chances at Hartlepool – despite a recent poll that cleared the Tories with 17 points and the bookies favored conservative candidate Jill Mortimer, to win the seat.
With results slated for days across England as coronavirus restrictions slow the counting process, it could be a difficult long weekend for Labor.
YouGov local elections, released last week, suggested the Tories might take over the largest party in Bolton and Dudley, while Labor sources fear they could lose control of the Sunderland and Durham councils for the first time in half a century .
Sir Keir said it would take time to rebuild his party after the worst election result since 1935 under Jeremy Corbyn, adding, “I never thought we would climb the mountain we have to climb in just a year . “
In his last message to voters, he said: “This is a changed Labor Party. Under new leadership, we put the working people and their communities first.
“Your priorities will always be Labor priorities. The work councils, councilors and mayors are focused on creating the safe jobs, safer roads and health services that we all want to see.”
“You are the first step in Labor’s plan to rebuild Britain based on security and opportunities across the country.”
The Prime Minister insisted it was a “very uphill battle” to win Hartlepool, a seat that has been Labor since its inception in 1974.
The Conservatives hope to achieve a “hat trick” of success to win Hartlepool and maintain mayoral rights in Teesside and the West Midlands.
Mr Johnson said, “It is Conservative Mayors who are bringing new investment and local jobs to their areas. A new free port and green jobs are on the way to Teesside, and new trams, subway lines and station upgrades are on the way to the West Midlands.
“Conservatives have delivered more in four years than complacent Labor politicians have delivered in decades.”
Success is expected for Labor with Sadiq Khan winning a second term in London.
While the results in England will determine who runs key authorities and will provide an indication of the state of the art before the next general election in 2024, competition in Scotland could have a far greater impact.
The SNP will certainly be the largest party in the Scottish Parliament again after the elections, but it will want to win an overall majority of the MSPs if it pushes for a second independence referendum – something that polls say remains balanced.
Mr Johnson has refused to support another referendum and has created the potential for constitutional fireworks in the years to come if Mrs Sturgeon gets the desired outcome.
Ms. Sturgeon insisted that her focus would be on fighting the coronavirus and rebuilding the economy.
But “when the Covid crisis is over, we will give the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose whether the recovery should be in the hands of Boris Johnson and the austerity-driven Tories, or if Scotland’s future rests in Scotland’s hands of independence.” “.
She said: “Despite the challenges of last year, we should be optimistic about the future of Scotland – and with the right guidance, I know we have the natural resources and human talent to deliver a fairer, greener and more prosperous Scotland. that we all want to see. “
In Wales, Mark Drakeford is hoping to maintain Labor’s hold in the Senedd – but he may be forced to form a new coalition to remain first minister.
That could mean talks with Plaid Cymru, whose chairman Adam Price has committed to an independence referendum within five years if his party wins a majority.
Drakeford is unlikely to award a referendum as the price of a coalition agreement, but he has advocated a “deeply anchored form of decentralization” that cannot be reversed by the UK government.
In March he said the UK in its current form was “over” and a new union should be created to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”.
The effects of the coronavirus have resulted in a number of elections – including competitions that have been postponed from 2020 – and logistical difficulties for election administrators.
While postal ballots are expected from more voters, those who go to polling stations are encouraged to take their own pen or pencil and wear face-covering.
The votes in the by-elections in Hartlepool will be counted overnight. The result is expected in the early hours of Friday morning while Holyrood’s votes are counted on Friday and Saturday.
In Wales, the composition of the Senedd should become clear on Friday.
It could be Sunday evening before all the results of the local competitions in England are known, while the final results of the police and crime commissioner election may not be available until Monday evening.