Will Sunak still be Conservative leader for the next general election?

Amid dire poll ratings, there has long been speculation that disgruntled Tory MPs would move against Sunak in the event of poor local election results.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gestures as he speaks to employees during a visit to the DHL Gateway port facility at Stanford Le Hope on the Thames estuary east of London on April 29, 2024. (Photo by Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP) (Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak has acknowledged a 'disappointing' series of local election results after the Conservatives suffered defeats across the country. (AFP via Getty Images)

A bruising set of local election results for the Tory Party is heaping further pressure on Rishi Sunak's leadership.

The prime minister has previously confirmed he will call a general election this year, but there are questions as to whether he will even be in his job to do so.

Amid dire poll ratings, there has long been speculation that disgruntled Tory MPs could move against Sunak after these elections, in which nearly 2,700 council seats were up for grabs in England, as well as high-profile mayoralties.

However, the Conservatives retaining the Tees Valley mayoralty may be enough to quell any attempts to overthrow Sunak - even after it was announced on Saturday that Tory mayor Andy Street narrowly lost in the West Midlands.

Sunak will only face a confidence vote should 52 Tory MPs submit letters of no confidence to senior backbencher Sir Graham Brady.

The PM, for his part, responded to the poor results by saying they have "redoubled my resolve to continue to make progress on our plan".

Labour dominated mayoral elections across England. And out of the 107 councils where votes were held on Thursday, 106 have declared so far – with the results making grim reading for Sunak.

The Tories lost control of 10 authorities and nearly 400 councillors lost their seats. Labour gained eight authorities and more than 200 seats.

Elections expert Prof Sir John Curtice has said: "When the round of elections held on Thursday was held back in 2016, the Conservatives lost ground too. Nevertheless, they still won 30% of the seats being contested. This time around they have won just 20%, even fewer than the Liberal Democrats.

"That is perhaps the clearest indication of the depths to which the party’s standing in the eyes of the public has now fallen, just six months at most from a general election."

This came as Sir Keir Starmer also celebrated a “seismic win” for Labour in the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to the press after delivering a speech at Blackpool Cricket Club, to celebrate the victory of New Labour Party MP for Blackpool South, Chris Webb (unseen) following the results of the by-elections in Blackpool, north-west England, on May 3, 2024. Britain's ruling Conservatives lost a parliamentary seat to the main Labour opposition on May 3, as the country awaited local election results likely to pile more pressure on embattled leader Rishi Sunak. Labour seized the constituency of Blackpool South, in the northwest of England, in the latest by-election defeat for the Tories as it appears on course to lose an upcoming general election. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer said the result in Blackpool South had sent a message 'directly to the PM' demanding a change. (AFP via Getty Images)

Party chairman Richard Holden told Times Radio early on Friday: “The prime minister is going to go on and lead the Conservative Party into the general election, there’s no doubt about that.”

But, asked on Sky News if he was confident Tory MPs will not try to remove Sunak as PM, Holden was less bullish: “Parliamentary colleagues need to look at this and see… and wait through the weekend as well.”

Watch: Labour not on track to win general election - PM

Former home secretary Suella Braverman, a hardliner who was sacked by Sunak last year, ruled out seeking a change in leader on Sunday, though she did so with an attack on the PM.

"We don’t have enough time and it is impossible for anyone new to come and change our fortunes," she told the BBC.

"There is no superman or superwoman out there who can do it."

From a nationwide perspective, it's looking grim for Sunak: the Conservatives are currently polling lower than under Liz Truss.

The latest YouGov/Times voting intention poll, released on Thursday, found the Tories on 18%, down 2% since 24 April.

This is the lowest Conservative vote share of this Parliament, lower than under Truss - the leader who was compared to a lettuce - when it sank to 19%.

By contrast, Labour are on 44% of voter intention, down 1% since the end of April.

The last time YouGov recorded a lower vote share for the Tories was during 2019, in the run-up to the European Parliament elections of that year.

It also matches the lowest share Labour ever received under Jeremy Corbyn in the summer of 2019.