Defiant Boris brushes off London Tory bloodbath in local elections
Defiant Boris brushes off London Tory bloodbath and rebukes leadership rivals as Labour LOSES votes outside capital with ‘Red Wall’ holding in local elections – but PM still faces fury over Partygate and Lib Dem threat in the shires
- Local Tory leaders suffering ballot box beating are turning on Boris Johnson and calling on MPs to take action
- Tories have lost flagship Wandsworth and Westminster council in London and also relinquish Southampton
- But results so far have not been as apocalyptic as feared and Labour has not turned in a stellar performance
- The Cabinet are set to rally round Boris Johnson as the ‘right leader’ to steer Britain after the local elections
- Ministers will hit the airwaves to argue he should stay on as PM – no matter how bad the poll results are
- The PM reportedly told aides ahead of ballot papers being counted: ‘We are going to get our a*** kicked’
Defiant Boris Johnson brushed off demands to quit from furious Tories today as the party suffered a local election bloodbath in London – but Keir Starmer failed to make big strides towards power.
After a campaign dominated by sleaze and Partygate, the Conservatives lost the totemic strongholds of Wandsworth and Westminster – which they have held since 1978 and 1964 respectively – to Labour.
Labour also seized Barnet and Southampton, while West Oxfordshire and Worcester went to no overall control.
English council results so far
Holds: Broxbourne, Thurrock, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Epping Forest, Basildon, Rochford, Brentwood, Harlow, Rushmoor, Redditch, Fareham, Amber Valley, North East Lincolnshire, Tamworth, Dudley, Bexley, Hillingdon
Losses: Worcester (to no overall control), Wandsworth (to Labour), Westminster (to Labour), Southampton (to Labour), West Oxfordshire (to NOC), Barnet (to Labour)
Gains: Cumberland (from NOC), Wandsworth (from Tories), Westminster (from Tories), Southampton (from Tories), Barnet (from Tories)
Holds: Sunderland, Halton, South Tyneside, Chorley, Tameside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sefton, Stevenage, Lincoln, Sandwell, Exeter, Ipswich, Wigan, Coventry, Salford, North Tyneside, Preston, Oldham, Waltham Forest, Wolverhampton, Barnsley, Ealing, Barking & Dagenham, Redbridge
Loss: Kingston-upon-Hull (to Lib Dems)
Gain: Kingston-upon-Hull (from Labour)
What other results are expected and when?
Around 9am: Counting begins for a further 71 councils in England and all councils in Scotland and Wales.
As counting continues, livid local leaders have already been turning on the PM, ordering Mr Johnson to ‘look in the mirror’ and consider whether he should stay.
But so far the results have not been as apocalyptic as some had predicted, with voting guru John Curtice saying Labour still does not look in a position to win a majority at the next general election.
He pointed out that the party’s vote appears slightly down outside of London compared to the last time the seats were contested in 2018 – and crucially it did not make huge inroads into the so-called Red Wall.
Sir Keir visited Barnet this morning and claimed his party was ‘back on track’, but No10 insiders jibed that he could not even ‘dream’ of being premier based on this showing.
The Downing Street source also delivered a stark message to would-be leadership rivals, telling MailOnline it is ‘hard to imagine any other Conservative leader doing better than this’.
The biggest winners from the local elections have been the Lib Dems and the Greens, who have been taking seats off both main parties.
The Tories are in line to lose between 200 and 300 councillors – a grim toll but far lower than the 800 some had feared.
Some senior Conservatives warned that Mr Johnson had been the fundamental problem on the doorstep, and ministers are anxious. ‘There is serious unease. They know that Boris was the issue,’ one veteran campaigner told MailOnline. ‘It wasn’t policies, despite the cost-of-living crisis.’
However, MPs have been relatively muted in their public criticism of Mr Johnson, with former minister Stephen Hammond saying he must ‘prove his integrity to the country again’.
And Cabinet ministers rallied round this morning, with Tory chairman Oliver Dowden blaming a mid-term backlash from voters and insisting the PM is the right person to lead into the next general election.
The PM was said to be pessimistic about his party’s chances of avoiding a drubbing before the counts began, with the BBC reporting he yesterday told aides: ‘We are going to get our a*** kicked tonight.’
Conservative leader of Carlisle City Council John Mallinson urged Tory MPs to decide whether they wanted Mr Johnson to lead them into the next general election.
He told Sky News the PM ‘must shoulder an awful lot of the blame’ for a poor local elections performance and described how Partygate and the cost-of-living crisis were key concerns of voters.
Mr Mallinson said there was a feeling among the public that ‘the Government are not in touch and, sadly I have to say, the PM cannot be relied upon to be telling the truth’.
He said Mr Johnson said Mr Johnson would be a ‘poor option’ to lead the Tories into the next election and he expected Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, to receive more letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson from MPs.
The councillor added: ‘Whether it gets to 54 or not (the number of letters needed to trigger a confidence vote in the PM), I’m not sure. But I rather feel that’s they way it’s going.’
Simon Bosher, the Conservative group leader on Portsmouth City Council, said: ‘Those in power in Westminster really do need to take a good hard look in the mirror.
‘Because it’s the rank-and-file grassroots members who they rely on who are actually losing their seats tonight.’
He also called on the PM to reflect on the Tories’ local election performance as he hit out at ‘too many mistakes, too many mismanged situations’ from the party’s leadership.
Barnet Conservative leader Daniel Thomas said Labour’s victory in the London borough ‘does not bode well’ for the Tories ahead of the next general election.
‘I think this is a warning shot from Conservative supporters and I think our loss today is not only due to the fact that I have just mentioned but also a fair number of Conservative voters who just didn’t go out to vote, stayed at home,’ he said.
‘Clearly if Labour are to get a majority in Parliament they need to win Barnet. They won the council, if they win our parliamentary constituencies as well.’
Marc Bayliss, the Tory leader of Worcester City Council, told reporters he was heading home early from the election count and is anticipating a disastrous night for his party.
Mr Bayliss blamed Partygate and said the public had found the Government’s performance ‘wanting’.
His comments were echoed by the leader of the Conservatives on Sunderland Council, Antony Mullen, who called for Boris Johnson to step down.
He told the BBC: ‘It’s been Partygate – it’s suppressed our turnout. Quite clearly that’s the only thing that has changed nationally that has affected this.
‘The best chance of reviving the Conservative Party’s fortunes will be with a new leader. If there is no improvement in the party’s reputation, then clearly something has to change.’
The leader of the Labour group of Barnet council, which looks set to be a gain, admitted the results were more about disillusionment with the Tories than enthusiasm for his party.
Barry Rawlings told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’ll be honest, it’s not us being wonderful.
‘I think a lot of Conservatives haven’t voted this time, I think they feel alienated from No 10 and that they are, I don’t know, they’ve been disappointed with Boris Johnson and so not voting and I think that’s made a difference as well.’
Despite the chaos, Labour also saw several surprising setbacks across the country.
Sir Keir’s party lost Kingston upon Hull City Council to the resurgent Liberal Democrats, who appeared to be the early winners and were making gains across the country.
The Lib Dems are also ’99 per cent sure’ that the Tories will lose control of West Oxfordshire – which includes ex-prime minister David Cameron’s former seat Witney.
It was a similar story for the Green Party who chipped away at Conservative and Labour seats in England.
Number 10 had feared for weeks that a dismal set of local election results would spark a Tory coup attempt in the wake of the Partygate scandal.
Keir Starmer visited Barnet this morning (pictured) and claimed his party was ‘back on track’, but No10 insiders jibed that he could not even ‘dream’ of being premier based on this showing
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street this morning) reportedly told aides ahead of ballot papers being counted: ‘We are going to get our a*** kicked’
London Mayor Sadiq Khan joins Labour celebrations in Wandsworth where the party took the council off the Conservatives for the first time in more than 40 years
Labour’s Graeme Miller, the leader of Sunderland City Council, celebrates as his party retained control
The Tories also lost Westminster council in London, which the party had held since 1964
The Tory loss of Wandsworth is a seismic result, as the London borough was famously Margaret Thatcher’s favourite and has been a flagship Conservative council for decades
Rise of the protest parties: Voters shun the Tories AND Labour with Lib Dems and Greens emerging as the big winners
The Lib Dems and Greens are emerging as the biggest winners from the local elections today after voters shunned the main parties.
Both the Tories and Labour suffered disappointing results, with Boris Johnson enduring a bloodbath in London while Keir Starmer’s progress across England was underwhelming.
But the Lib Dems have added more than 50 councillors to their tally and seized control of Kingston-Upon-Hull authority from Labour. They made inroads against the Conservatives in West Oxfordshire and Stockport.
For their part, the Greens have racked up an extra 20-plus seats.
Election guru John Curtice said the Lib Dems were ‘the surprise of tonight’. ‘In terms of share of the vote, the progress is relatively modest, but they might just be hoping they are finally demonstrating some recovery from the 2015 general election,’ he told the BBC.
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: ‘There is now a real picture emerging across the country, particularly in areas held by the Conservatives, that the Lib Dems are the real challengers.’
Wimbledon MP Mr Hammond told the BBC that the results were ‘a clarion bell ringing in Downing Street to make sure we are concentrating on the cost of living’ and Mr Johnson needed to restore his reputation after Partygate.
‘I think he has to prove that his government is concentrating on what people really want,’ he said.
‘I think he has to prove his integrity to the country again.’
Mr Hammond also urged the PM to bring ‘talents back into the government’.
‘Any government that doesn’t have people like Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt clearly isn’t using all the talents available to it,’ he added.
Conservative MP David Simmonds said Mr Johnson had some ‘difficult questions’ to answer.
The MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner said voters were unhappy about the disclosures over lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
‘It was a pretty clear message on the doorstep. Clearly the Prime Minister has got some difficult questions to answer,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘Overwhelmingly the message that I heard on the doorsteps was people were broadly positive about the Government’s policies but they are not happy about what they have been hearing about partygate.
‘He said, ‘I will take full responsibility for these election results’, and I think he needs to confront that question now.’
Prof Curtice said the Tories looked on track to lose between 200 and 300 seats, but Labour were underperforming outside London. ‘Labour are probably somewhat disappointed,’ he told the BBC.
He added it is not a performance ‘that indicated a party that is on course for winning a general election with a majority’. Prof Curtice said it did not even suggest Labour would necessarily be the largest party in the next Parliament.
‘Outside of London, as compared to 2018 when these seats were last contested, it looks like their seats are down slightly,’ Prof Curtice said.
‘And for a party that is trying to regain ground in the so-called Red Wall seats in the Midlands and north of England, this wasn’t quite the progress they wanted.
‘There is still a very substantial legacy of the impact of Brexit on both the character of the Conservative and Labour supporters. The Conservatives are still much stronger in Leave areas, and therefore Labour is still struggling to make more progress there.’
Sir Keir travelled to Barnet to celebrate with supporters this morning and tried to put a brave face on the moderate results.
‘This is a big turning point for us. From the depths of 2019 in that general election, back on track, winning in the north. Cumberland! Southampton! We’ve changed Labour and now we’re seeing the results of that,’ he said.
He added: ‘What brilliant teams we’ve got, all the fantastic work we’ve put in.
‘When it comes to London, you can hardly believe those names come off our lips. Wandsworth! They’ve been saying for years ‘You’ll never take Wandsworth from us.’ We’ve just done it! Westminster! It’s an astonishing result.’
Mr Dowden told Sky News: ‘I think looking at the picture of the results so far, they demonstrate that whilst there have been difficult results, they are consistent with what you’d expect with us from mid-term.
‘Labour are certainly not on the path to power and I believe that Boris Johnson does have the leadership skills, in particular the energy and the dynamism that we need during this difficult period of time.
‘So no, I don’t think we should remove Boris Johnson as our prime minister, I think we should stick with him.’
He also said: ‘There have been challenging headlines for the past few months, but I do think that set against all of that, those sort of challenges that you would expect after 12 years in office, these are challenging results, but we have have made progress in lots of places.’
Mr Dowden said there was a ‘mixed picture’ and there had been gains in places like Hartlepool, Nuneaton and Thurrock.
‘This isn’t like what Tony Blair got in say ’95 two years before his election victory, they were making 1,800 gains. If you look at Ed Miliband (he) managed to make 800 gains in 2011 and still not win the election,’ he added.
Tory sources played down the Labour showing, saying it was a ‘bad night’ for Sir Keir outside the capital.
‘They have gone backwards in places like Sunderland, Tyneside, Hartlepool, Nuneaton, Sandwell and Amber Valley, showing they are seriously underperforming in former Labour heartlands which they need to regain,’ one senior source said.
A No10 insider said they were ‘very sorry and sad for good Conservatives who lost their seats’ and it was ‘tragic to think the good people of Westminster and Wandsworth are now destined to pay higher taxes’.
‘But overall, across the UK the Conservatives have so far done better than expected,’ the source insisted. ‘Keir Starmer is clearly not making the progress he needs to even dream of being in government and it’s hard to imagine any other Conservative leader doing better than this.’
Allies of the PM are preparing a counter-offensive in case rebel Tories seek to use bruising results as an excuse to pounce.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was the first Cabinet minister out in support of the PM last night, as he dismissed suggestions that a poor election result could pile pressure on Mr Johnson.
‘I absolutely think we can win the next general election and I do think Boris Johnson is the right person to lead us into that,’ he told Sky News.
‘He’s got those big decisions – through Covid and internationally with Ukraine and other areas – right since he’s been PM and he has my full support to continue to do that.’
But Mr Lewis also admitted it was set to be a ‘difficult set of elections’ for the Tories.
‘We came into these elections with Labour having a consistent lead in the polls,’ he added.
‘It’s the elections where the particular seats and councils up for election are the ones that tend to favour Labour.’
Millions of voters cast their ballots on Thursday as council seats in large swathes of the country were up for grabs.
In England more than 4,000 council seats were contested across 146 councils including in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs.
All 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 in Wales also held elections.
Polls had suggested the Conservatives could do badly in the so-called Blue Wall, their traditional heartlands in southern England.
But most telling will be whether the party manages to prevent Labour making a significant comeback in the Red Wall areas, which switched from red to blue for the first time at the 2019 general election.
Early results were not overwhelmingly convincing for Labour, with the party losing control of Kingston upon Hull city council to the Liberal Democrats.
The Tory loss of Wandsworth was a seismic result, as the London borough was famously Margaret Thatcher’s favourite and had been a flagship Conservative council for more than 40 years.
Conservatives celebrate in Peterborough, where they maintained their grip on the local authority
As he celebrated at the Wandsworth count, London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News: ‘This council first went Tory in 1978 when Margaret Thatcher was leader of the opposition.
‘Margaret Thatcher, John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, David Cameron, Theresa May – at all those times this was a Conservative council.
‘But the combination of Boris Johnson as the Conservative Prime Minister and Keir Starmer as our leader has brought this seat home to Labour.’
A Labour source said: ‘Boris Johnson losing Wandsworth is monumental. This was the Tories’ jewel in the crown.
‘Voters in Wandsworth have put their trust in the change Keir Starmer’s Labour represents.’
Shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan, the Tooting MP, claimed that ‘people are absolutely fed up of 44 years of Tory governance in Wandsworth, and they are fed up Boris Johnson’s lies and deceit and it is time for change’.
Her fellow shadow minister, Tulip Siddiq, had earlier highlighted Labour’s holding of Sunderland City Council as an early success for her party as council election results started to come.
She claimed the Tories had ‘thrown the kitchen sink at it’ and highlighted how the PM had visited the area on Monday.
Sir Keir had sought to make the local elections campaign about the Partygate row after Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined by police.
But this appeared to backfire in recent days as he struggled to answer questions about a lockdown gathering in Durham last year when he was pictured swigging beer.
The PM yesterday appeared to be in good spirits as he arrived to cast his vote in Westminster accompanied by his dog Dilyn.
Sir Keir voted in Kentish Town, north London, while Sir Ed Davey voted in Surbiton, south-west London.
The Liberal Democrats leader said the Conservatives would be punished in the local elections for their handling of the cost of living crisis.
Sir Ed expressed confidence his party would ‘gain ground in areas across the Blue Wall where voters are fed up of being taken for granted by the Conservatives’.
Mr Johnson will attempt to get back on the front foot next Tuesday as his Government’s legislative agenda is set out in the Queen’s Speech.
The PM is expected to delay a reshuffle of his Cabinet until the summer as it is believed he wants to be clear of the Partygate scandal before resetting his team.
But yesterday there was speculation he could call a snap general election before the end of this year over fears the economic picture could get much worse.
Millions of voters cast their ballots as council seats in large swathes of the country were up for grabs
The PM is expected to delay a reshuffle of his Cabinet until the summer as it is believed he wants to be clear of the Partygate scandal before resetting his team
The prospect of Mr Johnson being forced out of Number 10 over the local election results was gleefully seized upon by Dominic Cummings, the PM’s estranged former chief aide, yesterday.
The ex-No10 adviser made a sensational polling day plea for voters to force ‘regime change’ as he launched a blistering attack on the ‘intellectually, politically, and organisationally rancid’ Tories.
Referring to Mr Johnson as ‘the trolley’ and a ‘clown’ in a Twitter tirade, Mr Cummings claimed it was ‘irrational’ for Tories to ‘prop up’ the PM any more.
Although the first results in England began to arrive last night, counting in council elections in Wales and Scotland was not due to begin until 9am today.
The Scottish Tories are braced for ‘heavy losses’ and expected to suffer their worst election result in Scotland in at least a decade.
There are concerns Conservative supporters in Scotland failed to turn out due to anger at the PM and Downing Street parties.
A senior Scottish Tory source said: ‘The phones have been bad, very bad.
‘It looks like we are going to suffer fairly heavy losses and we fully expect to finish third.
‘Tory voters are not going to Labour, but a lot of them are staying at home because of Boris and Partygate.
‘We expect it to be a poor election for us, our worst election in a decade or more.’
However, despite the expectation of a gloomy result, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross was ready to insist he will not stand down.
A source close to Mr Ross said: ‘Douglas is going nowhere, he is definitely not resigning. Voters have sent a message to Boris, not Douglas.
‘He is fully focused on the long term job here: the next Westminster and Scottish Parliament elections.’
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