Votes being counted in Blackpool South by-election and local contests

Labour is confident it will win the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election as Rishi Sunak braced for a difficult set of results in local contests across England.

The by-election, triggered by the resignation of former Tory MP Scott Benton after a lobbying scandal, is just one of scores of contests which will be closely analysed ahead of the general election the Prime Minister will call later this year.

There are 107 councils holding elections in England, with around a third expected to declare overnight following Thursday’s polling day.

Cabinet minister Chris Heaton-Harris accepted that Blackpool South was likely to be lost by the Conservatives.

London Mayoral election
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Victoria leave the polling station in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency, north London, after casting their votes (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The Northern Ireland Secretary said it was “going to be a tough seat for us to hold” given the scandal which led to it.

He told the BBC: “You are highly unlikely to be rewarded by the electorate. Electorates do not like by-elections being put on them because of a failing like that.

“From the very start I would have expected to lose Blackpool South.”

Most of the council seats up for re-election in England were last contested in 2021, at the peak of Boris Johnson’s popularity as the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out.

While the Blackpool South by-election and some 35 council results are expected in the early hours of Friday, the final declarations will not come until Sunday.

A total of 11 mayoral contests are also taking place, including for the London mayoralty between frontrunners Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan and Tory challenger Susan Hall.

Conservative mayors Andy Street in the West Midlands and Tees Valley’s Ben Houchen are also facing key re-election battles, with polls suggesting tough fights with their Labour opponents.

London Mayoral election
Sadiq Khan with his wife Saadiya Khan and dog Luna visited a polling station in south London (Yui Mok/PA)

Forecasts have consistently put Mr Khan ahead of Ms Hall, with a poll published on Wednesday by Savanta giving him a 10-point advantage after his lead tapered over the campaign.

Tory peer and polling expert Lord Hayward said: “I expect the Tories to lose upwards of 400 seats.”

But he suggested that Mr Sunak’s position was not in immediate jeopardy.

“In recent days I have been left with the very clear impression that, amongst Tory MPs, the ‘let’s have a leadership election’ balloon has been substantially deflated,” he said.

However, “an audible, very small group will disagree and probably do so early”.

Meanwhile, Labour said the mayoral system favours incumbents, though Sir Keir Starmer is “hopeful” of success in the West Midlands.

Conservative wins for both Mr Street and Mr Houchen would offer the Tories a ray of light in what could be a dismal set of results, but experts warned the metro mayor races would be the “least reliable indicator” of what could happen at a general election.

Both candidates received backing from Mr Johnson and appear to have distanced themselves from their party allegiance throughout campaigning.

In council votes, Labour said it had gained control of Hartlepool, which had been run by a coalition of independents and Conservatives.

The Tories held Broxbourne while Labour held Sunderland, but elsewhere in the north-east they lost wards to independents in South Tyneside and the Greens in Newcastle.

The party’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict could be a factor in some wards where Labour has lost ground.

Voters across England and Wales were also choosing who will serve as police and crime commissioners.

Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden said: “The most important election of the night is the historic by-election in Blackpool, caused by yet more Tory chaos and scandal. It’s the only election today where voters have had the opportunity to directly reject Rishi Sunak’s party in Westminster.

“It’s going to be a long night and the full picture of results from local elections may not be clear until over the weekend, but we expect to see Labour gains that show we’re making progress in the places we need to win the next general election.”

Local elections
Conservative London mayoral candidate Susan Hall (Shiv Gupta/PA)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who has largely targeted the Tories in southern England, said: “The message across the country today was loud and clear. Voters want an end to this appalling Conservative government.

“People are sick of the Conservative Party’s endless infighting, unaffordable mortgages, an NHS in freefall and filthy sewage being pumped into their rivers and seas.”

The relatively new requirement for voters to show photographic identification continued to cause problems, including for Mr Johnson, who as prime minister introduced the changes.

He was turned away while attempting to cast his ballot in South Oxfordshire, where a police and crime commissioner for the Thames Valley is being elected, Sky News reported.

A spokesman said he returned to the polling stations with the correct identification and voted Conservative.

The Government said it intends to make veterans’ ID cards a valid form of voter identification after former service personnel were turned away from polling stations.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer apologised to those who had been unable to use their veterans’ ID card to vote in the local elections on Thursday, vowing to “do all I can” to have it added to the list of valid identification.