'Terrible night' for Tories as Rishi Sunak suffers heavy council losses

Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives suffered huge losses in his first electoral test as PM.

Labour said voters had punished him ‘for the Tories’ failure’, with the results suggesting Sir Keir Starmer will be able to replace him in Number 10.

The Liberal Democrats also made gains on what leader Sir Ed Davey hailed as a ‘groundbreaking night’ for the party.

Labour took Medway off the Tories and will run the Kent council for the first time since 1998.

It also gained control of Plymouth, where the Tories had run a minority administration – a result branded ‘terrible’ by Government minister and local MP Johnny Mercer – then did the same in Stoke-on-Trent, another general election battleground.

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

Tamworth, Brentford, North West Leicestershire and East Lindsey also fell from Tory administrations to no overall control.

West Lindsey remained under no overall control but the Lib Dems replaced the Tories as the largest party.

In Boston, the Tories lost 10 councillors in the Lincolnshire town they had run as a minority, with independents now taking the majority of seats.

Labour replaced the Tories as the largest party in Hartlepool and Worcester.

On the eve of the coronation, the Tories lost control in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, with the Lib Dems claiming victory.

Tory insiders said they had always expected a ‘tough night for the party’, but with the prospect of a general election in 2024 there will be concerns that they have suffered losses in the north, south and the Midlands.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the party had experienced a ‘bit of a blip’ following the turmoil in No 10 which saw Boris Johnson and Liz Truss ousted before Mr Sunak took office.

He attempted to present the expected losses as mid-term blues for the Tories, telling Sky News: ‘The British people are a very sensible group of folk and they understand what’s important.

‘Occasionally they like to give political parties a bit of a reminder of who the politicians serve. Certainly when you get into being mid-term in a government you get quite a bit of that.’

Veterans Minister Mr Mercer told the BBC: ‘It’s been a really terrible night for us here in Plymouth.’

He said the result was due to local factors and insisted that the Prime Minister was ‘the sort of strong leader this country needs at this time’.

The council’s decision to fell dozens of trees in the city centre contributed to the loss of Tory support.

Mr Mercer said: ‘I think, locally, it has been very difficult. The Conservative Group here has been through a very difficult time. We have seen that reflected on the doors, in the campaign and we have seen that reflected in the results tonight but you know, we take it on the chin.’

In Tamworth – the seat of scandal-hit former Tory whip Chris Pincher – Labour made seven gains, pushing it from Conservative into no overall control.

But in Hull, Labour’s attempts to regain the council from the Liberal Democrats failed, with Sir Ed Davey’s party tightening its grip on the authority.

With full results from 49 out of the 230 councils where elections were being held:

– The Tories lost control of five councils and suffered a net loss of 117 councillors.

– Labour had gained control of two councils and put on 103 councillors.

– The Liberal Democrats had a net gain of 41 councillors.

– The Green Party had gained 11 councillors.

Sir Keir’s party expects to have its best local election results since 1997, with an equivalent vote share lead of at least 8% over the Tories, something which could result in a majority Labour government if repeated at a Westminster contest.

Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, said: ‘These results have been a disaster for Rishi Sunak as voters punish him for the Tories’ failure.’

Labour claimed that, based on the aggregate vote, the party would have won the Westminster constituencies of Hartlepool, Stevenage, Dudley South, Ipswich, West Bromwich East, Great Grimsby and Aldershot, which has been held by the Tories since its creation as a seat in 1918.

Labour’s Chris Cooke won the battle to become mayor of Middlesbrough, defeating the independent incumbent Andy Preston with a swing of almost 20%.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed said it had been a ‘groundbreaking night’ for his party.

He said: ‘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.

‘We’re making progress all over the country – including in the heart of the blue wall, where we’re confident of taking control of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.’

But the elections were branded a ‘dark day for British democracy’ by campaigners opposed to the introduction of photo ID, who claimed thousands of people had been denied their right to vote.

The contests were the first to be fought 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 today 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.’

Tom Brake of Unlock Democracy, who is leading a coalition of groups opposed to the policy including the Electoral Reform Society, Fair Vote UK and Open Britain, said: ‘Today has been a dark day for British democracy.

‘Reports from all over the country confirm our very worst fears of the impact of the disastrous policy which has been made worse by the shambolic way it has been introduced.’

The Association of Electoral Administrators’ chief executive Peter Stanyon said there had been ‘many anecdotal reports’ of people being unable to vote but ‘it is still too early to gauge how introducing voter ID has gone’.

More than 8,000 council seats were up for election on Thursday across 230 local authorities, while mayors were being chosen in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

The last time the same council seats were contested was in May 2019, when the Tories performed poorly under Theresa May as she struggled with Brexit and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn also suffered.

The Conservatives lost more than 1,300 council seats and majority political control of 44 councils, meaning they had less to lose on Thursday than they might have done.

About a quarter of the votes were being counted overnight, with the rest counted during the day on Friday.

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