Sunak’s Tories face bruising local council results after by-election drubbing

Sunak’s Tories face bruising local council results after by-election drubbing

Rishi Sunak has suffered a by-election drubbing and faces further pain in council contests across England.

Labour’s Chris Webb won the Blackpool South parliamentary seat with a swing of 26.33% from the Tories and Sir Keir Starmer’s party also secured council wins in areas which will be key general election battlegrounds later this year.

The Tories avoided the humiliation of coming third in Blackpool South, but finished just 117 votes ahead of Reform UK.

POLITICS Elections
POLITICS Elections

Out of the 107 councils where votes were held on Thursday, just 35 counted overnight – but the results make grim reading for the Prime Minister.

The Tories lost control of three authorities and 96 councillors lost their seats.

Labour gained three authorities and 58 councillors.

Elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said the Tories could be on course to lose 500 councillors in “one of the worst, if not the worst” performances by the party in 40 years.

“So far they are basically losing a half of the seats they are trying to defend. If that continues, they may end up losing 500 or so seats, which is the thing they were meant to avoid,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

Most of the council seats up for re-election in England were last contested in 2021, at the peak of Boris Johnson’s popularity as the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out.

Voters across England and Wales also had the chance to choose their police and crime commissioners.

Key results include:

– Labour won Rushmoor in Hampshire for the first time and claimed the council in general election bellwether Redditch.

– Labour won Hartlepool council, regaining ground in an area where the party suffered a Westminster by-election disaster in 2021.

– Labour won Thurrock, one of its top targets and an area of the country that will be a key battleground with the Tories at the next general election.

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

– Labour lost control in Oldham, with gains made by independents possibly as a result of Sir Keir’s stance on the war in Gaza.

– The Greens put on 12 councillors and the Liberal Democrats also gained 12, while there were also increases for independents and residents’ groups.

– Labour gained police and crime commissioners from the Conservatives in Cumbria and Avon and Somerset.

POLITICS Elections
POLITICS Elections

In the Blackpool South contest triggered by the resignation of former Tory MP Scott Benton following a lobbying scandal, Labour secured 10,825 votes, a majority of 7,607.

Mr Webb said: “People no longer trust the Conservatives. Prime Minister: do the decent thing, admit you’ve failed and call a general election.”

The 26.33% swing was the third biggest from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “seismic win”, adding: “This is the one contest where voters had the chance to send a message to Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives directly, and that message is an overwhelming vote for change.”

Tory deputy chair Angela Richardson told the BBC: “The result was not unexpected. I think, given the circumstances that caused the by-election in the first place, it was always going to be difficult for the Conservatives.”

The strong showing by Reform UK will add to Tory unease about Mr Sunak’s ability to lead the party to a general election victory.

Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice told the PA news agency his party had “rapidly become the real opposition to Labour, whether it’s in the North, the Midlands, we know it’s the case in Wales”.

In Sunderland, one of the few councils where Reform fought every seat, it beat the Conservatives into third place in 16 of the 25 seats up for grabs while Labour made a net gain of six to increase its comfortable majority.

A total of 11 mayoral contests are also taking place, including for the London mayoralty between frontrunners Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan and Tory challenger Susan Hall.

Conservative mayors Andy Street in the West Midlands and Lord Ben Houchen in Tees Valley are also facing re-election battles.

Victory for either would be a welcome boost for Mr Sunak, although Labour point to the mayors distancing themselves from the current Tory leadership.

The Liberal Democrats said they expected to put further holes in the “blue wall” of Tory battleground seats in southern England.

The Greens hope to make further progress in key targets including Bristol, Worcester, Stroud and Hastings.

Green co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “North and south, east and west, Greens are winning the trust of voters fed up with the chaos of the Conservatives and the U-turns of Labour.”

The relatively new requirement for voters to show photographic identification caused some high-profile problems, including for Mr Johnson, who as prime minister introduced the changes.

He was turned away while attempting to cast his ballot in South Oxfordshire but returned with the proper documentation to vote for the Tory candidate for police and crime commissioner.