Rishi Sunak argues he can still win general election despite near ‘catastrophic’ council seat losses predicted

Tory party chairman had appealed to rebel MPs to ‘wait’ for more results this weekend amid increased pressure on the PM’s leadership

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Friday 03 May 2024 12:56 BST
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A defiant Rishi Sunak has argued that he can still win the general election despite predictions he is on course to lose a near ‘catastrophic’ number of council seats.

The prime minister admitted his party’s overnight results in the local elections in England were “disappointing”.

But he pointed to results in Harlow and the Tees Valley to suggest he could still lead his party to victory.

Earlier his party chairman had appealed to rebel MPs to “wait through the weekend” for more results as a bruising set of votes piled further pressure on Mr Sunak’s leadership.

But asked whether he needed to convince his own party he could do better when it came to a general election, a defiant PM said: "If Keir Starmer was in Harlow on Wednesday saying that that was a place he needed to win in order to win the next general election - that hasn’t happened.

"We still haven't got results from places like Tees Valley with the mayoralty results, which again is a key battleground.”

He also told reporters at a military base in North Yorkshire that it was “obviously … disappointing to lose good hard working Conservative councillors”.

Rishi Sunak (Getty Images)

Minutes after he finished speaking it was announced that Conservative Ben Houchen had held on in the Tees Valley, although the swing in the vote would see parliamentary seats won by the Tories in 2019 fall to Labour.

Lord Houchen got 81,930 votes (53.6 percent) and his Labour rival Chris McEwan 63,141 (41.3 percent).

However, this was still a collapse in Lord Houchen’s vote, far below the 78.8 per cent he received in 2021.

The Tory Party chairman has appealed to rebels Tory MPs to "wait through the weekend" for more results, as he insisted Ms Sunak was "the right man" to lead the party.

Richard Holden admitted it had been a "tough night".

Elections experts have warned the Conservatives could be on course to lose 500 seats in what could be their worst performance in 40 years.

Earlier, Sir Keir Starmer hailed a "seismic win" for Labour in the Blackpool South by-election, where the party secured a 26.33 per cent.

Labour's victory was the third biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

Asked whether he was confident Tory MPs would not try to remove Mr Sunak as PM, Mr Holden told Sky News: "Parliamentary colleagues need to look at this and see... and wait through the weekend as well."

Most of the council seats up for re-election in England were last contested three years ago, at the peak of Boris Johnson's popularity and just after the Covid-19 vaccine had been rolled out.

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