Tory poll expert sounds inflation warning to Rishi Sunak over May vote

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a daunting start to the new year (Henry Nicholls/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing a daunting start to the new year (Henry Nicholls/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak will need to show inflation is falling rapidly to stand a chance of avoiding a major setback in May’s local elections, one of the Conservative Party’s leading polling experts said today.

The Prime Minister is facing a daunting start to the new year with strikes crippling the rail network, health chiefs warning that the NHS is on the brink of collapse and the UK economy set to enter a protracted recession.

The gloomy outlook will provide the backdrop to this year’s town hall elections where around 7,000 council seats are being contested across England in the first major test for Mr Sunak since he took over from Liz Truss in October.

They are set to come a year after the Conservatives surrendered control of flagship London boroughs Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet as voters punished them over a series of sleaze scandals and the partygate affair.

But Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer, said there was a “glimmer of hope” for Mr Sunak if he could show by March that inflation starts to fall significantly. That, Lord Hayward said, could potentially ease the pressure on the Bank of England to keep hiking interest rates and reduce the pain for homeowners facing a sharp rise in mortgage payments.

“This is Rishi’s first major electoral test – so eyes will be on him,” Lord Hayward told the Evening Standard.

“Assuming strikes will largely be over by the end of January, the May elections will be framed by events in February and early March.

“And the two big issues where Rishi will want to demonstrate he is delivering stable and competent government are the Northern Ireland protocol and on inflation.”

This May’s elections do not involve any of the London councils, which went to the polls last May. But they are by far the biggest set of elections in the country’s four-year electoral cycle and will provide a clear snapshot of the public mood ahead of an expected general election next year.