Tories may not win election, Sunak admits while claiming hung parliament likely

Tory rebels have urged the Prime Minister to change political course rightwards after a local election drubbing

Archie Mitchell
Monday 06 May 2024 14:38 BST
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Suella Braverman admits she regrets backing Rishi Sunak to become prime minister

Rishi Sunak has conceded the Conservatives may not win the next general election, but made the extraordinary claim there would be a hung parliament.

The prime minister is braced for continued fallout after the weekend’s local election results, with Tory rebels warning him to change course after a dire set of local election results.

But Mr Sunak claimed the performance shows Britain is on course for a hung parliament, claiming voters would not want to see Sir Keir Starmer “propped up in Downing Street” by the SNP or smaller parties. The most recent YouGov poll puts Labour 26 points ahead of the Tories.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed there would be a hung parliament after the election
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed there would be a hung parliament after the election (PA Wire)

Mr Sunak pointed to Sky News analysis of the local election results which suggested Labour would be the largest party in a hung parliament. Elections expert Michael Thrasher said that if Labour’s seven point local election lead over the Conservatives was repeated at a general election there would be a hung parliament.

However, people tend not to vote the same way in a general election where independent and smaller party candidates do not fare as well, and the analysis did not factor in any Labour gains in Scotland off the back of ongoing SNP chaos.

A Tory MP told The Independent it was “wishful thinking”, while Chris Hopkins, political research director at pollster Savanta, said it was “completely disingenuous”.

He told The Independent: “Any suggestion that the country is headed for a hung parliament after this most recent set of local election results is either wilful ignorance and a tactic to show Conservative MPs and supporters that there’s still something to play for, or a genuine misunderstanding of what has just played out across the country.”

“These results suggest we are heading for a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party,” Mr Sunak told The Times. “Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.

“The country doesn’t need more political horse-trading, but action. We are the only party that has a plan to deliver on the priorities of the people.”

It came as Downing Street shelved plans for a summer general election, with an autumn vote now widely expected after the Tories’ local election drubbing. The PM reportedly hopes an improving economic picture and the Rwanda deportation flights expected this summer can improve his re-election chances in the autumn.

If recent polling is to be believed, Sir Keir Starmer is on track for a clear majority
If recent polling is to be believed, Sir Keir Starmer is on track for a clear majority (PA Wire)

An ally of Mr Sunak told The Telegraph: “I definitely think the weight of views is to go later as there’s still plenty we can keep doing to show delivery.”

Labour national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said the party has the “confidence and belief” it can win a general election outright.

He told The Guardian: “What the weekend’s results show is that Labour doesn’t have to always lose and the Tories are beatable … we go into it with more belief because of what’s happened in the past few days.”

And Labour Party chairman Anneliese Dodds said Mr Sunak’s claim about a hung parliament was “extraordinary”. She told GB News: “If you look at the places where Labour won, where Labour picked up support, it was in those constituencies that Labour will need in order to deliver a majority Labour government.

“So I'm afraid Rishi Sunak has got this wrong…he should be listening to that message that, actually, give people the chance for change.”

A minister on Monday claimed Tory voters who stayed at home for last week’s elections will back the government at the general election.

Health minister Maria Caulfield repeated Mr Sunak’s assertion that the UK is on course for a hung Parliament, with Labour falling short of enough seats to win power if Thursday’s results are replicated in a national vote.

But she also pointed out that people do not vote in a general election as they do in a local one, telling Sky News on Monday: "It’s always difficult when you’ve been in government and voters can send a message to a party in government that they’re unhappy about certain things with the safe knowledge that they still have a Conservative government in control.

"It’s very different come a general election where they really do have to make a choice.

"If you look at Blackpool South, for example, the vast majority of our voters that voted for us in 2019 stayed at home, they didn’t switch to Labour. They didn’t switch to Reform. They stayed at home and that shows that they haven’t really been tempted by other parties."

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has urged the Prime Minister to change course rightwards to win back voters.

Twice-sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman spoke to Laura Kuenssberg about ‘what Mr Sunak should do’
Twice-sacked former home secretary Suella Braverman spoke to Laura Kuenssberg about ‘what Mr Sunak should do’ (PA Media)

But she said a change of leadership was not a “feasible prospect”, adding: “There is no superman or superwoman out there who can do it.”

Among the measures Ms Braverman has urged Mr Sunak to adopt to win back voters are further tax cuts and a cap on legal migration.

Tory grandee Sir John Hayes signalled the Prime Minister should reshuffle his Cabinet, with his close ally Ms Braverman as a voice at the table for what he called the “authentic Tory part of the Conservative Party”.

But Conservative moderates warned against Mr Sunak lurching rightwards, with outgoing West Midlands mayor Andy Street claiming after his loss that “winning from that centre ground is what happens”.

Damian Green, chairman of the One Nation Group of Tory moderates, made a similar plea on the BBC’s Westminster Hour.

“I would just observe the seats that we have lost in the past few days – we lost to parties to the left of us. So I think suggesting that what we need to do is to move to the right is irrational in the face of the electorate,” he said.

Labour sought to dispel suggestions it would consider a coalition with the SNP after the next election.

Pat McFadden, the party’s national campaign co-ordinator, said: “Our aim is to win a majority, to govern, to meet the mood for change, and we’re not planning any alliances or pacts with anyone.”

The West Midlands result was a shock defeat for the Conservatives, with Lord Ben Houchen the sole remaining Tory mayor, in Tees Valley.

Labour dominated other mayoral contests across England, including in London and Greater Manchester, and took a Tory scalp by winning the Blackpool South by-election.

With the results of all 107 councils in England that held elections on May 2 declared, Labour has won 1,158 seats, an increase of more than 232.

The Liberal Democrats beat the Tories into second place, winning 552 seats, up nearly 100, a result hailed by party leader Sir Ed Davey as “stunning”. The Tories are just behind on 515 seats, down nearly 400.

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