Local elections: ‘Terrible’ night for the Conservatives as Labour takes key targets

Rishi Sunak and the Conservative party are braced for heavy losses as results come in for local elections across England, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats both making gains in what one senior Conservative MP described as a “terrible” night for his party.

The contests across 230 local authorities in England represent Rishi Sunak’s first major electoral test since becoming prime minister and the results in so far are bruising. 

Labour gained control of Plymouth, where the Conservatives were running a minority administration, then did the same in Stoke-on-Trent, Hartlepool and Worcester in what are all general election battlegrounds. 

Keir Starmer’s party have made gains such as Medway Council in Kent from Conservative control for the first time since 1998.

The Conservatives also lost control of the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Brentford and North West Leicestershire as voters punished Rishi Sunak’s party.

The party also lost control of Hertsmere where deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden is the MP, with 13 councillors voted out. Labour gained seven and the Lib Dems six.

As of 16.30 pm, with results declared from 151 of the 230 councils, the Conservatives have lost 573 seats while Labour has gained 302 and the Liberal Democrats 212.

The Green party has gained 33 seats and independents are up 22.

According to Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator, the local election results show Labour is on course for a majority at the next national poll.

She said: “These results show that we are on course for a majority Labour government.

“We have spent the whole campaign talking about Labour’s plan to tackle the Tory cost of living crisis which is the number one issue for voters. Rishi Sunak can’t talk about it because the Tories crashed the economy and they don’t know how to fix it. Tonight has been a disaster for Rishi Sunak as voters punish him for the Tories’ failure”.

Speaking outside Conservative party HQ this morning, prime minister Rishi Sunak said he intended to carry on “delivering on the people’s priorities” as he responded to the local election results.

He said: “It is always disappointing to lose hardworking Conservative councillors… but in terms of the results it is still early. We have just had a quarter of the results in.

“But what I am going to carry on doing is delivering on the people’s priorities: Halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists and stopping the boats. That is what people want us to do”.

A serving Conservative cabinet member has said the local election results have so far been “terrible” for his party.

Asked what would he could change in the wake of the bruising results for the Tories, Mr Sunak told broadcasters: “We have only had a quarter of the results in. Actually we are making progress in key election battlegrounds… but the message that I am hearing from people tonight is that they want us to focus on their priorities and they want us to deliver for them.”

Johnny Mercer, the veterans affairs minister and MP for Plymouth, was speaking after his party lost control of Plymouth Council to Labour.

He told BBC News: “It has been a really terrible night for us here in Plymouth. I think there has been a number of factors at play. 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.”

Asked whether he would want the prime minister to “step things up”, Mr Mercer said: “I’ve been in and out of government, I’ve been in and out under different prime ministers. Rishi Sunak is a different class. He is capable, smart, professional, empathetic, a strong leader and the sort of strong leader this country needs at this time. 

“It’s down to people like me and others to advocate for him”, he added. 

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey hailed a set of “groundbreaking wins” that “show people are sick to the back teeth of this government”

Commenting on early local elections results, Mr Davey said: “This is a groundbreaking night for the Liberal Democrats. 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.

“From Bath to Brentwood, more and more communities are choosing Liberal Democrats to be their local champions.The message from voters is clear: they are sick to the back teeth of Rishi Sunak and his out-of-touch Conservative Government. At this election, it is the Liberal Democrats who are defeating the Conservatives and delivering the fair deal people deserve.”

Conservative party chairman Greg Hands said the Conservatives were “disappointed with the result in Windsor and Maidenhead”, where the Liberal Democrats made inroads, but he insisted the overall picture across the country was not “comprehensive”.

Turning to Labour gains, Mr Hands said: “In 1995 before Tony Blair’s landslide Labour were gaining 1,600 seats, the Conservatives lost 1,900 seats. I don’t think we are seeing anything like that.”

He added that it was not a “uniformly good picture for Labour” as he rubbished the opposition’s claim that Sir Keir Starmer was on course to win power at the next general election.

Challenged on the Conservatives losing Stoke on Trent to Labour, he told Times Radio: “Stoke is a low bar for Labour to regain, of course we are disappointed… but Labour are kidding themselves, they need to be winning right the way across the country but the Conservatives have been gaining seats in Peterborough, Sandwell, Bassetlaw, Harlow.

“These are all seats that Labour last held when they were in government”.