Local elections 2024: Labour pulling off strong wins with 'truly historic' shock in Tory stronghold - as results show Brexit shift

Labour has won control of a string of Leave-voting councils as results roll in from the local elections across England and Wales.

The party was also buoyed by victory in the Blackpool South by-election, with a 26.33% swing from the Tories.

Among the key council gains, Labour took Rushmoor in Hampshire, which the Conservatives had run for the last 24 years.

It also seized Redditch in the West Midlands, turning a Conservative majority of five into a Labour majority of 15.

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And Labour has retaken Hartlepool Council - the scene of a major by-election loss back in 2021, which led Sir Keir Starmer to consider quitting as leader - and Thurrock in Essex, from no overall control, saying it was "exactly the kind of place we need to be winning to gain a majority in a general election".

And the party replaced the Tories as the largest party on Peterborough Council which, while remaining under no overall control, saw the Conservatives lose 13 of the 16 seats they were defending.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives lost control of North East Lincolnshire after Labour won five of the seats up for grabs - with neither party now holding a majority on the council.

All six areas overwhelmingly voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum, with Thurrock supporting it by 72.3%, North East Lincolnshire by 69.9%, Hartlepool by 69.6%, Redditch by 62.3%, Peterborough by 60.9% and Rushmoor by 58.2%.

However, Labour saw support dip in some of its traditional heartland areas with large Muslim populations, amid anger over the party's stance on the conflict in Gaza.

It lost control of Oldham and while keeping hold of Newcastle, the party saw a number of seats fall to the Greens

The Tories also clung on by a single seat in Harlow, a council targeted by Sir Keir on the eve of polling day.

In other important developments:

• Labour held on to Sunderland Council
• It also kept control of South Tyneside and Chorley
• The Tories held on to other councils in Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Essex

More than 2,600 council seats across 107 councils were up for grabs in England, alongside 11 mayoral elections, a parliamentary seat and police and crime commissioners throughout England and Wales - with many of the results still coming in.

But early signs show Labour is winning back seats in areas it lost over the Brexit debate, as well as making gains in traditionally Tory voting councils.

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'People crying out for change' - Labour

Tory party chairman Richard Holden told Sky News it had been a "tough night" for the Conservatives, but argued it was coming off a "very high watermark set of elections in 2021" and "typical for a government in midterm".

But he said: "I do feel sorry for a lot of my Conservative colleagues who have been out campaigning with across the country over the last few weeks and months who haven't managed to hold their seats."

However, he argued voters had not suggested they want to see "more change" within the Conservative Party, when pressed over Rishi Sunak's position as leader and insisted the party "will be ready" whenever the election was called.

Labour's shadow environment secretary Steve Reed told Sky News that while it was "early days", the results so far were showing positive signs for Labour come the next general election.

"These are not polls," he said. "These are people getting off their backsides, going out of their homes, into a polling station, putting a cross on a party that they want to govern their local area.

"People are crying out for change. I know that from speaking to people on the doorsteps and tonight, it looks like people around the country are voting for change."

But while Tory MP James Daly said he "fully accepts" the loss of these councils, he insisted to Sky News his party could "still win in parts of the country where historically Labour have dominated" - including in Teeside, where Conservative Lord Houchen is defending his mayoralty.

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The Conservatives bucked predictions in Harlow in Essex where it managed to keep control of the council - although its majority fell from 11 to one, and Labour gained five seats.

The party also held on to Broxbourne Council in Hertfordshire - an authority it has run for its entire 52-year history - and Fareham in Hampshire, though in the latter the Liberal Democrats picked up four seats.

A Lib Dem source said they were "buoyed" by their results overnight, claiming it set them up to take seats off the Tories at the next election.

"This is just a taster of what is to come throughout Friday in the Blue Wall," they added.

Reform UK is performing well, racking up an average vote share of between 14% and 15%, and pushing the Conservatives into third place in some areas, including Sunderland.

However, it isn't fielding candidates everywhere - instead targeting Leave seats where its predecessors, the Brexit Party and UKIP, performed well - and has yet to win a seat or council for itself.