Sunak braces for more Conservative losses as mayoral votes are counted

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Rishi Sunak’s chastening encounter with the electorate continues on Saturday as the results of mayoral contests in some of England’s biggest urban areas are set to be declared.

Sunak’s Conservatives have been hammered in local elections across England and Wales and Labour is expected to clock up further wins, including the re-election of its regional mayors in Manchester and Liverpool.

But the UK prime minister has survived a mooted threat to his leadership from anxious Conservative MPs and on Saturday is hoping for brighter news in two of the highest profile contests: West Midlands and London.

Labour officials privately concede that Andy Street, Conservative mayor of West Midlands, is likely to secure a third term, which would be a big boost to Tory morale.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on the Gaza war has cost the party support in the region, officials admit, with Muslim voters switching to pro-Palestine independent Akhmed Yakoob.

Ellie Reeves, Labour’s deputy campaign co-ordinator, told the BBC: “We have to be honest, we have lost some support and we need to rebuild trust with those Muslim communities.”

There have also been suggestions that Susan Hall, Tory candidate in London, has given incumbent Sadiq Khan a scare. Turnout in outer boroughs, where the Tories are strongest, has been higher than in Labour’s inner city strongholds.

Anything other than a victory for Khan would be a huge surprise — and one of the biggest opinion polling failures of recent years — but even a close contest would be a fillip for Sunak.

However, the overall picture for the Conservatives is bleak. The party has suffered about 400 council seat losses and the BBC calculated that its projected national vote share was 25 per cent, a record low.

Labour also won the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election on a swing of 26 per cent from the Conservatives, the third highest such swing since the second world war.

Sunak, writing in the Daily Telegraph, tried to emphasise the positives from the vote. “Thursday’s results showed that voters are frustrated and wondering why they should vote,” he wrote.

“The fact that Labour is not winning in places they admit they need for a majority shows that Keir Starmer’s lack of plan and vision is hurting them. We Conservatives have everything to fight for — and we will, because we are fighting for our values and our country’s future.”

While Labour failed to beat the Conservatives in the highly contested town of Harlow, Starmer’s party was successful in accumulating votes in areas it needs to win at the general election.

Starmer’s victory lap on Friday took in Sunak’s Richmond parliamentary constituency, part of the York and North Yorkshire mayoralty won by Labour.

The Liberal Democrats were also eating into Tory support in the “blue wall” in southern England, including winning control of Dorset and Tunbridge Wells.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey claimed voters were switching from the Tories because they “have had enough of being taken for granted and being let down”.

The Greens also fared well in local elections, gaining over 50 seats and narrowly falling short of taking overall control in Bristol, winning 34 of the council’s 70 seats.

There was relief in Downing Street that Sunak had survived the threat of a mutiny by Tory MPs, with rebels admitting that they will now have to stick with the prime minister through to the general election.

Sunak’s allies feared that if Lord Ben Houchen failed to hold on to the Tees Valley mayoralty on Friday, it would have sparked panic in the party. In the event Houchen won, and hardcore plotters against Sunak went to the pub.

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