Five weeks before the British general elections, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party made significant gains in local elections on Friday.
Early results from the polls showed that the ruling party gained more than 550 seats and control 11 councils, while the main opposition Labour Party lost more than 380 seats and control of councils in its traditional strongholds, such as Glasgow.
The U.K. Independence Party, the far-right, anti-immigrant party which pushed for Britain’s exit from the European Union, suffered the most. It lost 143 seats, every one it was defending so far.
UKIP's Lisa Duffy refused to call the results a "disaster" but admitted that the night had been "very challenging" for her party.
"I won't use the word 'disaster,' I'll use the word 'challenging,'" she told the BBC. "We knew it was going to be a difficult night."
The local election on Thursday was to elect mayors of six new city regions, as well as around 4,800 seats on 88 local councils in Scotland, Wales and England.
John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said the Conservatives had so far put in their best election performance since at least 2008, with an average swing of seven points from Labour since 2013.
In Derbyshire, the Conservatives won 19 seats directly from the Labor, which would lose control of the council for the first time since the 1970s.
Voters often use local elections to punish the ruling party. The strong performance of the Conservative Party indicated that May's Brexit strategy is winning over voters. Many Conservative candidates have campaigned in recent days using her campaign mantra of "strong and stable leadership.”
Despite the positive results, senior Conservative were careful not to overplay their expected victory next month.
Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the outcome was "very encouraging," but the results were not an “accurate prediction” of next month’s poll.
"The turnout is only half what you get in a general election," he told ITV's Good Morning Britain. "So it is far too early to predict, even from last night, what is going to happen by the end of today and it is five more weeks to the general election."
May also said she was not taking anything for granted.
"Only a Conservative vote at the general election will strengthen my hand to get the best Brexit deal," she told supporters.
The British general election is scheduled for June 8.