Tory chairman urges MPs to ‘wait through weekend’ amid local election drubbing

Tory chairman urges MPs to ‘wait through weekend’ amid local election drubbing

The Conservative Party chairman has appealed to restive Tory MPs to “wait through the weekend” after a bruising first set of local election results, insisting Rishi Sunak is “the right man” to lead the party.

Richard Holden admitted it had been a “tough night”, but insisted the party’s drubbing on Friday was “typical for a Government in midterm” amid rumblings of unease among the parliamentary back benches.

Elections experts have warned the Conservatives could be on course to lose 500 seats in what could be their worst showing in 40 years.

It comes as Sir Keir Starmer hailed a “seismic win” for Labour in the Blackpool South by-election, where the party secured a 26.33% swing, as well as council gains in key areas like Hartlepool and Redditch.

London Mayoral election
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife, Victoria arrive at their local polling station in north London, to cast their vote in the local and London Mayoral election (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Prime Minister is braced for further pain as more results trickle in over the weekend which could increase pressure on his leadership of the Conservative Party and the country.

Touring broadcast studios on Friday, Mr Holden said it had been a “tough night”, but insisted that “when we’re facing those tough challenges we’ve got the right man for the job”.

Asked whether he was confident that Tory MPs will not try to remove Mr Sunak as PM, Mr Holden told Sky News: “Parliamentary colleagues need to look at this and see… and wait through the weekend as well.”

The losses have triggered speculation that mounting Tory discontent could lead MPs to seek to remove the Prime Minister after reports of a rebel plot to oust him in anticipation of disastrous local elections results.

Richard Holden in Downing Street
Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden admitted it had been a ‘tough night’ (James Manning/PA)

But Mr Holden sought to highlight local issues at play, insisting the Blackpool South by-election took place in “particularly difficult” circumstances following the resignation of former Tory MP Scott Benton after a lobbying scandal.

He admitted it had been a “tough night” but told LBC the party was coming off a “very high watermark in 2021”.

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

Labour’s Chris Webb won the Blackpool South parliamentary seat with the third biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

POLITICS Elections
(PA Graphics)

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

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, though the party held on by a single seat in Harlow. 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.

Chris Webb
Labour candidate Chris Webb celebrates with his wife Portia and baby Cillian Douglas Webb after winning the Blackpool South by-election (Peter Byrne/PA)

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.

In the Blackpool South contest, Labour secured 10,825 votes, a majority of 7,607, with Mr Webb saying: “People no longer trust the Conservatives. Prime Minister: do the decent thing, admit you’ve failed and call a general election.”

Sir Keir said: “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.”

He added: “That wasn’t just a little message, that wasn’t just a murmur, that was a shout from Blackpool.

“We want change, and Blackpool speaks for the whole country. It says we have had enough now after 14 years of failure, 14 years of decline…

“We have a positive case, we want to take our country forward, this is a giant step on that journey.”

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, with Mr Holden saying on Friday that votes for the right-wing party will “help Labour”.

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.

Sir Keir conceded he was “concerned wherever we lose votes” after Labour lost control of Oldham Council, with the party’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden admitting the crisis in the Middle East was likely a factor.

“We intend to win any votes we have lost back,” he told the BBC.

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 points 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.

The relatively new requirement for voters to show photographic identification caused some high-profile problems, including for Boris 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.