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Counting begins in biggest test of political opinion since general election

Published 05/05/2016

Voters are heading to the polls across the UK
Voters are heading to the polls across the UK

Counting has begun in the biggest test of political opinion since the general election, after polling stations closed across the UK at 10pm.

With 45 million people eligible to vote, "Super Thursday" was being seen as the first nationwide verdict on Jeremy Corbyn since he stormed to victory with massive grassroots support as Labour leader last September.

But the day was marred by chaos at 155 polling stations in north London, where Barnet Council was forced to apologise and offer emergency proxy votes to residents whose names were missing from polling lists.

Among those stopped from casting their ballots was Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who has been critical of Labour's handling of the anti-Semitism controversy.

Results were expected overnight in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, dozens of English councils, the mayor of Salford and parliamentary by-elections in Sheffield Brightside and the south Wales seat of Ogmore

But counting for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the mayor of Liverpool will not begin until the morning and voters in London will have to wait until Friday evening to learn the identity of their new mayor and Assembly members.

Also being announced on Friday were the Police and Crime Commissioners for 36 English force areas, and counting in some councils will continue into the weekend, finally ending with the declaration of four Welsh PCCs and a mayor for Bristol on Sunday.

An upbeat Mr Corbyn said he was feeling "very happy" and gave a thumbs-up as he went to put his cross in the box at a polling station in Islington.

On the eve of polling, Labour retreated from comments the leader made in the final days of the campaign that the party was on course for gains in the local authority elections.

Mr Corbyn changed tack, saying "predictions are not that important" as the party feared losses after Labour made nearly 800 gains under Ed Miliband when the seats were last contested in 2012.

The party's main hope of success is that Sadiq Khan takes back City Hall in London after eight years of Tory rule.

David and Samantha Cameron voted at Central Hall Westminster, a short walk away from Downing Street.

Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has tried to seize on the anti-Semitism controversy engulfing Labour in a bid to boost his chances after trailing in the polls.

But shadow cabinet member Chris Bryant hit back at Mr Cameron's exploitation of the issue in the run-up to polling day, telling the House of Commons that there was " no gutter low enough for the Prime Minister to slop around in".

Responding to Mr Cameron's call on Wednesday for Mr Corbyn to withdraw his earlier description of Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends", Mr Bryant said: "That kind of despicable smearing of one's opponents I think degrades the whole of politics.

"I would just say gently to the Government that those who live by the gutter die in the gutter."

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is aiming to lead the SNP to a historic third term, while Ukip is hoping for a breakthrough in Welsh National Assembly elections.

In all, 2,700 seats are being contested in 124 English councils.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour was hoping to reduce the 6.3% margin by which the Conservatives led in the 2015 general election 12 months ago.

"If we can narrow that gap, we will demonstrate steady progress," Mr McDonnell told Sky News. "What we are looking to do is build over the next four years so that we steadily, steadily build our support and then we are ready for 2020. I think that's exactly what we will do, laying firm foundations over the next four years."

In a bid to damp down expectations of Labour's performance in the English council polls, Mr McDonnell said the party had hit an "all-time high" when the seats were last contested in 2012, in the second year of Ed Miliband's leadership.

Mr McDonnell admitted conditions remain "tough" for Labour in Scotland, but said the SNP's "honeymoon period" appeared to be "beginning to fragment". Labour "might show some percentage improvements", he predicted.

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