Tories set to lose half of seats they are defending in ‘ near catastrophic’ local election result

Leading pollster says Tories could be set to lose around 500 seats in worst local local elections result in 40 years

Zoe Grunewald
Friday 03 May 2024 07:49 BST
Keir Starmer votes in local and London Mayoral election

The UK’s top election expert has said the Conservatives could lose up to 500 seats in what is looking like their worst performance in four decades at the local elections.

Polling guru Professor John Curtice said that the results far thus far - including the Blackpool South by-election - has meant “we're probably looking at certainly one of the worst, if not the worst, Conservative performance in local government elections for the last 40-years”.

Sir John said that the Tories look likely to lose around half of the seats they are defending, around 500.

Asked if that result would be “catastrophic” for the party, he told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Not far short of it. I am not sure I would quite go that far but let’s put it together. Blackpool South, the third biggest swing in post-war by-election history, and the point is it is not an isolated event.

“This is now the fifth parliamentary by-election in which we have seen swings of over 20 per cent from Conservative to Labour. The last time we had swings of that size with any degree of regularity was the 92-97 parliament. Tony Blair didn’t get as many as that and we know what happened in 1997.

“The local elections, of course the Conservatives, as they have rightly been pointing out, were defending a very high baseline, losses did seem inevitable.

“But so far they are basically losing a half of the seats they are trying to defend. If that continues they may end up losing 500 or so seats which was the thing they were meant to avoid.”

Sir John’s comments come as the Conservatives are bracing themselves for yet more disappointment as the results from the local council elections trickle in.

Labour has also hailed a “seismic” by-election win in Blackpool South. Labour took the seat from the Conservatives with 58.9 per cent of the vote share.

Labour’s candidate Chris Webb received 10,825 votes, with the Tories trailing far behind with just 3,218 and Reform behind with just 3,218.

Sir Keir Starmer said Labour’s win, in the contest to replace ousted Tory MP Scott Benton, was “truly historic” and the “most important result” nationally.

Counting is under way in the 107 councils in England that held elections on Thursday, with the first results declared overnight and more to come later on Friday. Thus far, Labour have the key battlegrounds of Hartlepool, Redditch, Sunderland and Thurrock.

Sir John Curtice warned the Conservative party against taking comfort in any wins in Teesside and West Mids (Getty Images)

Sir John said the results were a verification of the series of disastrous poll ratings that the Conservatives have been experiencing.

He said: “I think we have to conclude that the message of the polls of the last 12 months - which is that the Conservative Party under Rishi Sunak has not been making significant progress in narrowing the gap on Labour - that its not been making that progress, and these local results so far fully confirm what those polls have been saying”.

A recent YouGov poll gave the Labour party a 26-point lead on the Tories, which, if repeated at a general election would give the party just 36 seats according to the prediction site Electoral Calculus.

The results of the mayoral contests are still yet to be announced, as many stake the prime minister’s future on the potential loss of both Teesside and the West Midlands.

Sir John said that although maintaining these seats “could provide the Conservatives some comfort” it would be more of a testament to their personal popularity than the popularity of the party.

He added: “It would tell you that probably Mr Houchen and Mr Street are sufficiently well known and regarded sufficiently highly within their own communities that they've been able to win despite rather than because of their party.”

“In the West Midlands...apart from the mayoral election, there will be a Police and Crime Commissioner election. Labour have won it for the last two years even though Mr Street won the mayoralty... And secondly, the polling in both mayoralties - which suggests is going to be quite close whichever way it falls - says at the same time when you ask people in those places what they are doing in a general election they say quite strongly they're going to vote Labour.

“Basically Mr Street and Mr Houchen are able to persuade some Conservatives, who otherwise are going to defect from the party, to stick with a party for this mayoralty contest.”

The leading pollster went on to say that if the two mayors win the Conservatives should not “latch too strongly on to them”, adding: “they are looking for a comfort blanket rather than necessarily a serious assessment of where they stand six months before general election.”

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