Rishi Sunak calls local election losses disappointing as Labour make gains

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called the overnight local elections results "disappointing" despite his party retaining the Tees Valley mayoralty.

The Conservatives have lost over 400 council seats, while Labour won the Blackpool South by-election.

Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said voters showed Mr Sunak they wanted a change in the last big test of public opinion before a general election.

Nearly 90% of the 107 councils up for election have declared so far.

Sir Keir said the Blackpool result - a massive 26% swing to Labour - was a message to the Tory leader that it was time to move on and call a general election.

"That wasn't just a little message, that wasn't just a murmur, that was a shout from Blackpool - we want change," he said.

"And Blackpool speaks for the whole country - it's saying that we've had enough now."

Box top

In a rare bright spot for the Tories, Ben Houchen was elected for a third term in Tees Valley, with a much reduced majority.

Speaking at a press event in Teesside International Airport, Mr Sunak said the results showed at the general election election voters "are going to stick with us".

Mr Sunak said Labour "knew they have to win here in order to win a general election". But voters know "the Conservatives are building a brighter future for Teesside and a brighter future of Britain," he added.

Leading pollster Sir John Curtice said Lord Houchen's success was "heavily personal" and the results are not "particularly reliable" for an indication of Conservative fortunes in a general election.

Lord Houchen denied allegations he shied away from campaigning as a Conservative or the prime minister in his campaign literature.

When asked whether the Conservatives could win another term in government, he told the BBC: "There's always a chance but the government needs to do a lot better at delivering for people... We need to give them the excuse to vote for us."

Former vice-chair of the Conservative party Ben Bradley lost his bid to become the first mayor of the East Midlands. Labour's Claire Ward, the former MP for Watford, won the election with a 52,000 vote majority.

Labour's Kim McGuinness had a comfortable win in the race to become the first mayor of the North East.

And Labour's David Skaith won the new York and North Yorkshire mayoral election - which includes Mr Sunak's Richmond constituency - with a majority of almost 15,000 over the Conservatives.

Most other mayoral results - including London, where Labour's Sadiq Khan is aiming to win a third term - will come on Saturday.

Conservative MP Dame Andrea Jenkyns, a longstanding critic of Mr Sunak, urged him to listen to the electorate and change course, saying the party needed to "wake up, be conservative, or we lose".

But fellow Tory MP for Cleethorpes, Martin Vickers, backed Mr Sunak's leadership and called the idea of changing leader "complete madness" just months away from a general election.

'Strong feelings on the Middle East'

Labour will be particularly pleased to have regained control of key council targets Hartlepool, Thurrock, Rushmoor and Redditch - areas where they are aiming to win at the general election later this year.

But, there is evidence that Labour's stance on Gaza is hurting the party in areas with a significant Muslim population.

In Oldham, where two Labour councillors quit the party over Gaza earlier this year, Labour lost control of the council.

Labour MP Pat McFadden, the party's national campaign coordinator, admitted "strong feelings" around the Middle East were "a factor" in the losses, adding: "I don't think there's any point denying that - it does get raised".

The Workers Party of Britain, which has fiercely attacked Labour over its Gaza position, won four council seats including in Manchester where it defeated Labour's deputy leader of the council.

Reform UK is doing well in the areas where it has fielded candidates - and nearly beat the Tories into second place in Blackpool South.

Reform leader Richard Tice said the results showed his party "is rapidly becoming the real opposition to Labour".

Blackpool South by-election result

The Green Party is also performing well and heading for a record number of councillors.

The Liberal Democrats won Tunbridge Wells, but failed to take one of its other key target areas of Wokingham.

Lib Dem Leader Sir Ed Davey said his party's "general election campaign starts today".

Speaking in Winchester, Sir Ed said: "The votes are still being counted, but the message from across the country is loud and clear: people from around our great country have had enough of this out of touch Conservative government."

Voters are switching to the Liberal Democrats because they "have had enough of being taken for granted and being let down", he added.

The by-election in Blackpool South was triggered by the resignation of former Conservative MP Scott Benton, who was suspended from the party after being caught in a lobbying sting.

Labour candidate Chris Webb overturned a majority of 3,690 to defeat Conservative David Jones in the constituency, which was previously held by Labour from 1997 to 2019.

The swing of 26% from the Tories to Labour was the third biggest in a by-election since 1945.

Overall, it was a bad set of results for the Conservatives, who lost more than 400 council seats and control of eight councils, while Labour gained 170 council seats.

Elections expert Prof Sir John Curtice said the Tories could be on course to lose 500 councillors in "one of the worst, if not the worst" performances by the party in 40 years.

Chris Webb and his wife Portia hold their son Cillian Douglas Webb during the Blackpool South Parliamentary by-election
Labour's Chris Webb was joined by his wife and son at the Blackpool South count [Reuters]

Elsewhere, 37 police and crime commissioners are being elected in England and Wales.

Votes are still being counted in many councils, with the final declarations not expected until Sunday.