Sunak predicts ‘hard night’ for the Conservatives ahead of first electoral test as PM

Polls have opened across England, with Rishi Sunak set to face his first major electoral test since entering No 10 just over six months ago.

The prime minister has predicted a “hard night” for his party, but added that the Conservatives were now moving away from “box set drama” politics in reference to his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. The pre-polling day comments came at an Onward think tank event on Wednesday evening.

More than 8,000 council seats are on the line across 230 local authorities today, but no elections are scheduled in London or Birmingham. Mayoral contests are also being held in Bedford, Leicester, Mansfield and Middlesbrough.

Today is also the first election in England where voters will be required to present photo identification to prove they are who they say when they arrive at polling stations.

It follows a change in the law instigated by the UK government under the Elections Act 2022, first trailed in the Queen’s Speech of May 2021 and passed by parliament last April. The move was made in the interest of improving election security.

However, some senior Conservatives have expressed concern that even voters with photo ID risk being turned away from polling booths if new rules are applied strictly.

Former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has told the Independent: “Polling staff should be sensible and flexible. Personation is very rare and I would have thought even less likely with an expired passport of whatever vintage”.

Another former cabinet minister David Davis told the paper: “If there was anything to say to the returning officers, they should be encouraging people to be able to use expired ID”.

The local elections are also likely to be the final set of polls before the next general election, with the results set to give an indication of whether Labour and Sir Keir Starmer could be on course for Downing Street.

Speaking to broadcasters on the eve of the polls opening, Sir Keir said Labour had “a positive case to tell” and that he hoped to make electoral “progress”.

In view of the local elections, both the Conservative and Labour parties have been ramping up expectation management over how the results will play out.

CCHQ insists the Tories will lose 1,000 seats while Labour says they will gain 400. These figures have been labelled as too high and too low respectively.

Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, told Politico that if the Conservatives “are above 28 percent they have done better than they did in 2019. If they’re at 25 percent that’s the worst they’ve ever done.”

For Labour, “38 percent-plus is a really good yardstick because it is the best they did in this spell of opposition under Ed Miliband in 2012. … If it’s lower than 38, questions start being asked of ‘is this good enough to deliver the sort of swings we need next year’”.

The polls today are open from 7 am until 10 pm. Approximately a quarter of the votes will then be counted overnight with the rest counted during the day tomorrow.

Councils will start to declare results in the early hours of Friday morning and it is likely that by about 6am tomorrow we will have a good indication of how the parties have done.