Rishi Sunak faces make-or-break local elections as ‘armageddon’ looms with new poll low

Rishi Sunak is facing a make-or-break 48 hours as some Tory MPs plot to engineer his downfall even as the local election results in England are still being counted.

The chances of the prime minister facing a vote of no confidence from his MPs were heightened on Thursday when the latest YouGov poll revealed the party is even less popular under his leadership than during the calamitous premiership of Liz Truss.

According to the survey, taken on 30 April and 1 May, the Conservatives are down to just 18 per cent – 26 points behind Labour on 44 per cent and a mere three points ahead of Reform UK on 15 per cent.

If this were repeated in a general election, the Tories would be reduced to 32 seats with Sir Keir Starmer holding a majority of 388, according to prediction site Electoral Calculus.

There was further bad news from a Techne UK poll of 1,632 voters, partly taken during polling day, which put Labour on 44 per cent and the Tories on 22 per cent. The survey data revealed that only 43 per cent of those who backed the Tories in the 2019 election would do so at the next general election.

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is forecast to suffer heavy losses in Thursday’s local elections (PA Wire)
Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party is forecast to suffer heavy losses in Thursday’s local elections (PA Wire)

The results heightened the nerves of Conservative MPs as two days of counting began.

One Tory MP told The Independent that a move against Sunak is “likely” if either West Midlands mayor Andy Street or Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen lose their jobs.

If both lose, it is “almost certain” the 52 letters needed to trigger a leadership vote will be sent to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, the former minister said.

This claim was echoed by former chancellor George Osborne on his Political Currency podcast.

“If Andy Street loses in the West Midlands, that's pretty bad ...[but] If Ben Houchen loses it will be armageddon – because at that point, people will say, ‘We are absolutely headed now for a massive landslide defeat’,” Mr Osborne said.

Tory Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen goes to vote (Getty)
Tory Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen goes to vote (Getty)

However, Tory MPs have privately made it clear that the two mayors are not the only benchmark for Mr Sunak’s survival. Some will act if more than 500 of the 985 Conservative council seats being defended are lost, while others are looking at a potential wipeout of the 29 Tory police and crime commissioners around England.

Conservative MPs have also been wound up by former colleague Lee Anderson, who defected to Reform after being suspended for Islamophobic remarks about London mayor Sadiq Khan.

With many Tory voters apparently staying at home or turning to Reform, Mr Anderson said: “The gap is closing. And the lines on the graph are only travelling in one direction.”

The most likely faction to try to remove Mr Sunak will come from the party’s right, who could turn to former home secretary Suella Braverman or former home office minister Robert Jenrick.

But it has been claimed that the more moderate Penny Mordaunt has been in discussions over being installed as a replacement to Mr Sunak to take the party into a general election.

One Mordaunt supporter told The Independent: “Penny is the only one who can limit the damage. She is popular in the country and not a mad right-winger. If we move further to the right and try to ape Nigel Farage, the party will be finished.”

There is some optimism in Tory headquarters (CCHQ), with YouGov putting Lord Houchen as a clear winner on 51 per cent to 44 per cent against Labour’s Chris McEwan. But it is on a knife-edge in the West Midlands, with Mr Street only two points ahead of Labour’s Richard Parker by 41 per cent to 39 per cent.

London mayor Sadiq Khan takes his dog with him to vote (EPA)
London mayor Sadiq Khan takes his dog with him to vote (EPA)

Any hopes of a miracle win in London appear to be fading for the Conservatives, with Mr Khan (47 per cent) well ahead of his Tory rival Susan Hall (25 per cent).

However, Mr Khan has briefed the Labour shadow cabinet that he could face a shock defeat because 900,000 voters in London do not have the ID needed at polling stations. He is also concerned about the introduction of first-past-the-post for the mayoral races, a low turnout and a backlash against his expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to outer London.

One shadow cabinet member said: “It should be a straightforward win for Sadiq but there are reasons to feel nervous, especially with voter ID.”

Meanwhile, the Blackpool South by-election has already been written off as a Tory defeat. However, Conservative MPs are waiting to see whether the party comes third to Reform in a seat they won in 2019.

Penny Mordaunt is said to be positioning herself as a potential replacement for Rishi Sunak (EPA)
Penny Mordaunt is said to be positioning herself as a potential replacement for Rishi Sunak (EPA)

A backbencher said: “Losing is one thing. Everyone expects it. But if we come third to Reform, that will really raise serious questions.”

And even with victory in the mayoral races, Mr Sunak’s position is under question after Lord Houchen told The Independent that people who say they will vote for him have warned they will not vote Conservative in a general election, splitting between supporting Reform or staying at home.

Results for most of the council elections and the Tees Valley mayor race are expected on Friday while the West Midlands and London mayor votes will be counted on Saturday.