Tories lose 1,000 seats as Starmer eyes Labour general election win

Tories lose 1,000 seats as Starmer eyes Labour general election win

The Tories have lost more than 1,000 councillors and key strongholds such as Swindon and Medway, local election results on Friday showed, as Labour and the Lib Dems made significant gains.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the party is “going to bottle this feeling we have today” and “turn it into a General Election win next year”.

Labour has become the largest party in local Government for the first time since 2002.

The Lib Dems said that they are “exceeding all expectations in the capital’s commuter belt” but leader Sir Ed Davey would not be drawn on whether his party would seek to enter a coalition with Labour at the General Election.

With results still flooding in, the Tories had lost control of 48 councils, Labour gained 22 and the Lib Dems had gained 12. The Greens took overall control of their first council, Mid Suffolk. Labour has gained more than 500 councillors, and the Lib Dems more than 400.

Rishi Sunak said he was“disappointed” at losing some councillors but sought to highlight where his party was doing better.

The Prime Minister was under pressure as the local election results being declared on Friday showed both Labour and the Lib Dems seizing control of Tory councils across England.

The Labour leader said the “fantastic” results combined with a hoped-for recovery in Scotland would give him a majority in Westminster after a national poll.

Labour seized councils in Tory MPs’ seats that would be hotly contested at a general election – including in Swindon, Medway, Dover and East Staffordshire.

Mr Sunak conceded the results were “disappointing”, but said he was “not detecting any massive groundswell of movement towards the Labour Party or excitement for its agenda”.

But the Tories will be concerned by Labour wins in the North, South and Midlands and a resurgent Lib Dems, as the prospect of a general election in 2024 looms.

With just three councils to declare their results, this is how it stands:

  • Labour: 2,630 (+518)

  • Conservatives: 2,253 (-1,062)

  • Liberal Democrats: 1,588 (+419)

  • Others: 979 (-111)

  • Green Party: 472 (+236)

A day of celebration for Sir Keir started with a visit to Medway, where he welcomed “fantastic results across the country” in “places we need to win”, citing victories in Plymouth, Stoke and Middlesbrough, where his party won the mayoralty.

“Make no mistake, we are on course for a Labour majority at the next general election,” Sir Keir said.

“We’ve changed our party. We’ve won the trust, the confidence of voters, and now we can go on to change our country. Change is possible. A better Britain is possible.”

His party will run the Kent authority for the first time since 1998, with the outgoing Conservative council leader telling No 10 to “get their act together” on several fronts.

Both Swindon in Wiltshire and Erewash Council in Derbyshire had been controlled by the Conservatives for 20 years until the results of Thursday’s local elections. Dover had been controlled by the Tories since 2007.

North Swindon Tory MP Justin Tomlinson said the Conservatives had to take the “dreadful” results as a “wake-up call”.

The Lib Dems won Windsor & Maidenhead, Dacorum in Hertfordshire, Stratford-on-Avon and South Hams in Devon from the Conservatives.

In central London, Mr Sunak was understood to have thanked staff for their efforts, and said the results were always going to be tough but that the state of play has improved since he took over six months ago after the leaderships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

The Prime Minister told broadcasters it was “hard to draw firm conclusions” from the initial results.

“It’s always disappointing to lose hardworking Conservative councillors, they’re friends, they’re colleagues and I’m so grateful to them for everything they’ve done,” he said.

“But in terms of the results, it’s still early. We’ve just had a quarter of the results in, but what I am going to carry on doing is delivering on the people’s priorities.”

Mr Sunak cited his priorities as halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists and “stopping the boats”, adding: “That’s what people want us to do. That’s what I’m going to keep hard at doing.”

The Prime Minister said the Tories are “making progress in key electoral battlegrounds like Peterborough, Bassetlaw, Sandwell”.

The inroads for the Tories are debatable. In Sandwell, they have gained two of 24 seats, while Labour has gained four and held 18 more.

In Hertsmere, where Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden is MP, the Tories have lost control of the council, with 13 councillors voted out, while Labour has gained seven and the Lib Dems six.

The Conservatives lost control of Welwyn Hatfield, represented in Parliament by Energy Secretary Grant Shapps, where both the Lib Dems and Labour made gains.

The Tories also lost overall control in North West Leicestershire, Brentwood, East Lindsey and Hertsmere, as Labour won Blackpool.

Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice told the PA news agency the “jury is still out” on whether Labour has made progress as a party and said it is not experiencing the level of success seen ahead of Sir Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.

“Labour are going to have their biggest lead over the Conservatives in terms of votes than at any point since 2010, but it’s going to be as much to do with the Conservatives being down as much as it is Labour being up,” he said.

Veterans minister and local MP Johnny Mercer said Labour gaining control of Plymouth, where the Tories had run a minority administration, was “terrible”.

Stoke-on-Trent North Tory MP Jonathan Gullis told Sky News councillors have “suffered because, at the end of 2022, the Conservative Party as a brand was certainly damaged”.

But Labour’s attempts to regain Hull from the Lib Dems failed, with Sir Ed Davey’s party tightening its grip on the authority, and Labour lost control of Slough to the Tories.

Sir Ed said it has been a “groundbreaking night” for the Lib Dems.

“We are exceeding all expectations. We have delivered a hammer blow to the Conservative Party in the blue wall ahead of next year’s general election,” he said.

But the elections were described as a “dark day for British democracy” by campaigners opposed to the introduction of photo ID, who claimed thousands of people were denied their right to vote.

The contests were the first to be held under new rules requiring voters to carry photographic ID and the elections watchdog said some people were turned away from polling stations.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “We already know from our research that the ID requirement posed a greater challenge for some groups in society and that some people were regrettably unable to vote as a result.

“It will be essential to understand the extent of this impact, and the reasons behind it, before a final view can be taken on how the policy has worked in practice and what can be learned for future elections.”

Here are some of the key results:

– Swindon (Lab gain from Con)

This is where Sir Keir Starmer launched Labour’s local election campaign and where the party hopes to pick up at least one of the area’s two Conservative-held parliamentary seats at the general election.

Labour needed to win big to take control of the council but the party managed it, gaining 10 seats while the Tories lost 11.

– Dacorum (Lib Dem gain from Con)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey launched his party’s campaign in the Hertfordshire council by driving a yellow tractor through a “blue wall” of painted hay bales.

His party has now taken control of Dacorum from the Conservatives, after gaining nine seats while the Tories lost 13.

– Stratford-on-Avon (Lib Dem gain from Con)

This is an area represented in parliament by Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who was vaccines minister at the start of the pandemic and briefly Chancellor of the Exchequer at the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

But Stratford council is now under Lib Dem control, with the party up 13 seats and the Tories down seven.

– Surrey Heath (Lib Dem gain from no overall control)

Another Conservative big beast who may be feeling nervous is Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

Mr Gove is the MP for Surrey Heath, where the Liberal Democrats gained 14 seats and the Tories lost 10 – enough to give the Lib Dems overall control of the council.

– East Staffordshire (Lab gain from Con)

A straight switch from Tory to Labour control, with Labour up 10 seats and the Conservatives down eight.

The result will give Labour cheer in a part of the country that will be a key battleground at the next general election.

– Medway (Lab gain from Con)

Labour had this Kent council firmly in its sights, with Sir Keir visiting the area on the final day of the campaign.

The party gained 13 seats, enough to take full control of Medway for the first time since 1998. The Conservatives fell by 11 seats and lost overall control.