Sunak suffers ballot box drubbing as first day of election results ends

Rishi Sunak may yet quell a Tory rebellion amid a consolation win in the Tees Valley and hopes for the West Midlands mayoral contest, despite suffering a drubbing in the first day of local election results.

Lord Ben Houchen’s re-election on Teesside was a crumb of comfort for the Conservatives as the party lost more than half of its councillors up for re-election across England, just months away from a general election.

Labour hailed a “truly historic” result in Rishi Sunak’s own back yard of York and North Yorkshire, where David Skaith became the region’s first elected mayor, defeating Tory Keane Duncan by almost 15,000 votes.

The Opposition also took a Tory scalp in the Blackpool South by-election, the only Westminster ballot of Thursday’s polling day.

All eyes will now turn to mayoral contests in London and the West Midlands, the results of which will be declared on Saturday.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan is now believed to have a closer-than-expected contest with Tory challenger Susan Hall in the capital, while a narrow contest is also likely for West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street.

The results of several council and police and crime commissioner elections will also be announced as the weekend begins.

Sir Keir Starmer was in a buoyant mood following the result in North Yorkshire, a region which covers Mr Sunak’s Richmond constituency and where Labour has historically struggled to compete in parliamentary elections.

Speaking at Northallerton Town Football Club, Sir Keir said the result was a “historic victory” for Labour in “the heart of Tory territory”.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves celebrate with David Skaith at Northallerton Town Football Club
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves celebrate with David Skaith at Northallerton Town Football Club (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Labour also avoided potential embarrassment in the North East mayoral contest, where its candidate Kim McGuinness overcame independent Jamie Driscoll, who had quit Labour after being barred from running as the party’s candidate himself.

In the East Midlands, Labour’s Claire Ward became the region’s first elected mayor with a majority of more than 50,000 votes over Tory Ben Bradley who also sits as MP for Mansfield and leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.

Of the 107 councils that held elections on Thursday, 102 had declared their full results as of Friday night.

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The Conservatives suffered a net loss of 371 councillors, as the party lost control of 10 councils.

Labour won control of eight councils as it saw a net gain of 204 seats, while the Liberal Democrats gained 92 seats and the Greens 58.

In the final result of the night, the Conservatives lost control of Gloucester council.

Election expert Sir John Curtice suggested the final outcome could be the Conservatives’ worst performance for 40 years.

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The Liberal Democrats wrested control of Dorset Council from the Conservatives, where it now has 42 of the 82 seats after gaining 15.

The Greens fell narrowly short of taking overall control of Bristol, one of their top targets, despite gaining 10 seats.

While the Prime Minister acknowledged that results were “disappointing”, Mr Sunak was keen to stress his party’s victory in Tees Valley as a sign that Labour was not on course to win the general election.

Appearing alongside Lord Houchen at a victory rally, Mr Sunak said: “I’ve got a message for the Labour Party too because they know that they have to win here in order to win a general election – they know that.

“They assumed that Tees Valley would stroll back to them – but it didn’t.”

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Rishi Sunak said the results had been ‘disappointing’ but hailed his party’s victory in Tees Valley (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Labour sources pointed to Lord Houchen’s much-reduced majority, saying the swing against him would be enough to give Labour victory in all the parliamentary seats in the Tees Valley, and claimed he had managed to win only by campaigning as a “pseudo-independent”.

Lord Houchen denied that he had sought to distance himself from Mr Sunak, saying: “People around here know I’m a Conservative.”

Victory in Tees Valley is likely to have quelled efforts to topple Mr Sunak in light of other local election results, and his position will be further secured if the Tories can hold on to the West Midlands mayoralty on Saturday.

Labour, meanwhile, lost control of Oldham Council, failed to win back control of Oxford after nine councillors defected to independent last year, and lost some northern council seats, all apparently over the party’s stance on Gaza.

Sir Keir said he was “concerned wherever we lose votes”, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper conceding there was “really strong feeling about this issue”.

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Other key results include:

– Labour won Rushmoor in Hampshire and Adur in West Sussex for the first time and claimed the council in general election bellwether Redditch.

– Labour also secured control of Milton Keynes Council and Nuneaton and Bedworth Council, both covering key Westminster seats the party is looking to take at the general election.

– Labour won Hartlepool Council, regaining ground in an area where the party suffered a Westminster by-election disaster in 2021.

– The Tories clung on by a single seat in Harlow, although the total includes one councillor who was suspended by the party last month.

– The Greens became the largest party on Hastings Council, trebling its seats on the council.

– The Women’s Equality Party gained its first councillor, as Stacy Hart won a seat on Basingstoke and Deane Council, while George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain gained two seats in Rochdale and one on Manchester City Council.

– Labour have gained nine police and crime commissioners from the Conservatives, including in Cumbria, Avon and Somerset, and Norfolk.

In the Blackpool South by-election, Labour secured a 26.3% swing from the Conservatives as Reform UK recorded its highest vote share in a Westminster contest.

Hailing the victory, Sir Keir said: “This is the one contest where voters had the chance to send a message to Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives directly, and that message is an overwhelming vote for change.”

The strong showing by Reform UK will add to Tory unease about Mr Sunak’s ability to lead the party to a general election victory, with Reform’s leader Richard Tice telling the PA News Agency his party had “rapidly become the real opposition to Labour”.