Rishi Sunak told to ‘get shovelling’ to dig Tories out of deep electoral hole as party suffers nightmare local election hammering with loss of West Midlands mayor, hundreds of council seats and humiliation in London – but PM insists: ‘Our plan is working’ – Jornal Txopela

3 weeks ago
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Rishi Sunak is under enormous pressure to dig the Tories out of a gaping electoral hole today after the party suffered a local elections nightmare.

The Prime Minister and his allies are on the defensive after the Conservatives lost hundreds of local council seats and the prestigious West Midlands mayoralty to Labour.

There has also been a furious wave of recriminations and criticism after the Tory candidate for London mayor, Susan Hall, was roundly thrashed by Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan.

The scale of the defeats has raised fresh questions about Mr Sunak’s leadership, though rebel backbenchers do not appear to have the stomach to remove him.

Suella Braverman, the Conservative former home secretary, was quick to lay the blame for Tory losses at the door of Downing Street, but she said ousting Mr Sunak as party leader ‘won’t work’.

Writing in the Telegraph she said: ‘The hole to dig us out of is the PM’s, and it’s time for him to start shovelling.’

However, Mr Sunak tried to suggest that he is doing the right thing, despite the seismic scale of the loses and the party’s ongoing dire poll ratings.

In a statement released late last night he said: ‘Our plan is working.’

He added: ‘It’s been disappointing of course to lose dedicated Conservative councillors and Andy Street in the West Midlands, with his track record of providing great public services and attracting significant investment to the area, but that has redoubled my resolve to continue to make progress on our plan. So we will continue working as hard as ever to take the fight to Labour and deliver a brighter future for our country.’

Party chairman Richard Holden, who is also facing criticism over the election campaigns, also tried to calm furious politicians and activists.

Writing in the Telegraph he claimed that the result showed there was ‘no surge in love for Sir Keir Starmer’.

‘While Labour made some gains, they have failed to romp to victory, falling well short of the 350 predicted gains,’ he said.

He added that ‘the public has had enough of infighting’, saying: ‘It is incumbent on me to communicate this message from voters to my colleagues – leave sniping from the sidelines to Sir Keir, get behind our Prime Minister and make the case for our party to our country.’

Andy Street dramatically lost the West Midlands mayor battle last night in a body blow for the PM.

There were cheers and whoops as the declaration came that the Tory incumbent had been defeated by Labour rival Richard Parker after an extraordinary struggle that saw a series of recounts.

Following hours of wrangling, Mr Street was finally edged out by 1,508 votes – from a three-million strong electorate – with his opponent posting pictures of his celebrations.

The failure of the former John Lewis boss to secure a third term is a huge setback for the PM, and left him with almost nothing to cling to from a nightmare set of local elections.

Keir Starmer hailed the ‘phenomenal result’ saying it was ‘beyond our expectations’.

Rebels immediately warned that the ‘game-changing’ defeat meant Mr Sunak could now face a fresh bid to oust him – although other MPs reiterated their view it was too late.

The premier had been desperate for Mr Street to join Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen in the winner’s circle, demonstrating that the party can still win big contests.

Lord Houchen’s success had seemingly helped Mr Sunak quell a revolt. However, the latest defeat immediately inflamed anger, critics pointing to the relentlessly grim results for the Conservatives. The party is likely to end up losing nearly 500 councillors in one of the worst showings for 40 years.

One Tory MP told MailOnline that Downing Street had quelled dissent up to now by ‘bullsh*****’ that ‘all’s going to be fine’ and suggesting Susan Hall was going to win in London.

‘Despite all the highly positive private spin from No10 to Tory MPs since Thursday, we’ve lost well over 400 council seats, Andy Street has lost, Susan Hall has been defeated in London,’ they said.

‘Ben Houchen won without having the balls to wear a blue rosette, even at his own victory count… Rishi’s Sunak’s utterly hapless Leadership is now definitely in play.’

The MP added that they had not sent a letter of no confidence before, but would be now – predicting that the threshold of 52 for a vote would be hit.

Ex-Cabinet minister Simon Clarke, a public critic of Mr Sunak, reportedly posted on a Tory WhatsApp group after the news broke: ‘These results are awful, and should be a massive wake up call.’

A former minister told MailOnline that victory for Mr Street would have ‘eased the pressure’ on the PM.

‘For those who say it would be madness to have another leader now just look at the statistics. They say that is precisely what the majority of Tory voters want,’ they said.

‘I think there will be more reflection now. There will be a lot of phone calls being made this Bank Holiday weekend, not least by supporters of rival candidates, although they will be discreet.’

The MP added that there was ‘an element of MPs simply being resigned to losing’.

But another veteran Tory backbencher said Mr Street’s loss ‘is not going to shift anything’.

‘People know Rishi has improved things, so let’s stick with him and not let Kier take credit for Tories improving things over next six months,’ they added.

The MP said the key question for the rebels was who would be better than Mr Sunak: ‘No one and they know it.’

For the first time since 1996, the Lib Dems have won more councillors than the Conservatives at a round of local elections.

The Blackpool South by-election caused particular consternation as Labour stormed the seat with a 26 point swing – and the Tories only barely scraped into second ahead of Reform.

The battle for West Midlands mayor had been due to declare at 3pm, but went into extra time with both sides saying it was ‘too close to call’.

Recounts took place in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, and Coventry as the parties wrangle over every single vote.

It finally came down to Sandwell area, where Mr Parker needed to win by at least 11,456 votes. He cleared the bar by around 1,000 to overhaul Mr Street.

Despite the misery for the Tories, it has not all been plain sailing for Sir Keir, with experts warning that a slump in support in areas with large Muslim populations suggested he was ‘in trouble’.

Labour tied up more expected victories today, with Steve Rotheram re-elected as Liverpool City Region Mayor after securing a landslide 68 per cent of the vote.

Andy Burnham emerged victorious in Greater Manchester by 63 per cent to just 10 per cent for his Tory opponent.

Oliver Coppard was returned as as South Yorkshire Mayor with 138,611 votes, nearly three times as many as the 44,945 his Conservative rival Nick Allen received.

Earlier, Mr Sunak insisted he can still turn the situation around, saying people are ‘frustrated and wondering why they should vote’.

‘The fact Labour is not winning in places that they admit themselves they need for a majority, shows that Keir Starmer’s lack of plan and vision is hurting them,’ he said.

‘We Conservatives have everything to fight for – and we will because we are fighting for our values and our country’s future.’

Mr Sunak pointed to his party’s recent commitment to hike defence spending and cut migration as clear dividing lines with Labour.

But polling guru Prof John Curtice said the results demonstrated Mr Sunak has ‘very little to show’ for his efforts to restore the Tories’ fortunes after Liz Truss’s abrtive premiership.

The election expert told the BBC: ‘There is nothing in these results to suggest contrary to the opinion polls that the Conservatives are actually beginning to narrow the gap on Labour, and that so far at least, Rishi Sunak’s project which has tried to recover from the disaster – from the Conservatives’ point of view – of the Liz Truss fiscal event, that project has still got very little to show for it.

‘That in a sense is the big takeaway.

‘Now the Conservatives, as when all parties do badly in elections, they always want you to focus on the exception rather than the rule, and Tees Valley and probably the West Midlands are the exceptions not the rule.’

On Labour losses over its stance on Gaza, Sir John said: ‘At the moment I think what we would find if we had a general election is that Labour might well fall back in some of these seats, but because the Labour Party is already so strong, they would probably still succeed in winning the parliamentary election.

‘But yep, this is a big message to Labour from these local elections, is that you are indeed now in trouble with some of your Muslim former supporters.’

Mr Sunak suffered a blow in his own back yard as Labour took the York and North Yorkshire mayor post.

The region, which covers the PM’s Richmond constituency, is somewhere Labour has historically struggled to compete in parliamentary elections.

Labour also won inaugural mayoral contests in the East Midlands and the North East, and gained nine police and crime commissioner posts from the Tories, including in Cumbria, Avon and Somerset, and Norfolk.

But in a smattering of councils, the Opposition party lost seats to independents and George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, all apparently over the party’s stance on Gaza.

Overall, Labour won control of eight councils as it saw a net gain of 204 seats, while the Liberal Democrats gained 92 seats and the Greens 58.

The Liberal Democrats’ most significant victory was winning control of Dorset council from the Conservatives, where it now has 42 of the 82 seats after gaining 15.

The Greens fell narrowly short of taking overall control of Bristol, one of their top targets, despite gaining 10 seats.

Despite results that left the Conservatives on track to lose half the seats they contested, rebels admitted they had not persuaded enough MPs to join them to force a vote of no confidence in Mr Sunak’s leadership.

One rebel told the Mail simply: ‘We’re off to the pub.’

Dame Andrea Jenkyns, the first Tory MP to publicly move against the PM, said it was ‘unlikely’ that others would follow in sufficient numbers to trigger a leadership contest.

‘My stance is the same,’ she said. ‘But we are where we are and it is looking unlikely that the MPs are going to put the letters in, so we need to pull together.’

Former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries – another high-profile critic of the PM – said it would be ‘madness’ to try to replace Mr Sunak before the general election, adding that it would ‘make no difference’ to the result.

One rebel source said it was clear that Mr Sunak would ‘limp on to the election’, adding: ‘We’re not kamikaze pilots. In the end, there are too many MPs with their heads stuck in the sand for it to work.’…Read more by Fátima Valente

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