Tory MPs are assessing the fall-out after a “tough night” for Boris Johnson in his first test at the ballot box since being fined for breaking lockdown rules.
The Conservatives lost nearly 500 seats in England, Wales, and Scotland in Thursday’s council elections, with partygate and the cost of living crisis cited by local leaders as key issues on the doorstep.
The losses, as at 1am on Saturday, comprise 338 in England, 62 in Scotland, and 81 in Wales.
Sky News analysis suggests that if the result was replicated at a general election, the Conservatives would lose their Commons majority.
Labour took control in former Tory strongholds such as the London boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth, as well as snapping up Southampton and Worthing on the south coast.
But their success was not replicated in parts of the Midlands and the North, where they need to recover seats taken by the Tories in Mr Johnson’s landslide 2019 general election victory.
Labour’s electoral success was also tarnished after Durham police announced that they would investigate whether leader Sir Keir Starmer broke COVID rules while drinking with colleagues in April 2021.
Sir Keir has said there was no party and that he was “confident no rules were broken” during the episode, which has been dubbed “beergate”.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats enjoyed success in councils across the country from Somerset to Hull.
In Wales, the Conservatives lost ground to Labour and the Lib Dems; while the SNP enjoyed yet another triumph in Scotland with Labour pushing the Tories into third place.
Mr Johnson said: “We’ve had a tough night in some parts of the country, but on the other hand, in other parts of the country, you’re still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains.”
Positives for his party included taking control of the London borough of Harrow and consolidating its grip in Nuneaton – an area that will be a key general election battleground.
But one southern Tory MP told Sky News that the situation was “pretty grim”.
“The PM is to blame, no one else, and there are now 19 Tory London MPs who will be baying for blood.
“The PM is killing our traditional vote.”
Johnson ‘needs to find a way to restore confidence’
Separately, David Simmonds, Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said the issue of lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street had kept coming up on the doorstep.
“He (Mr Johnson) needs to find a way to restore confidence in the government and I think there’s a number of ways he might do that,” he said.
“A change of leader would be one of them. Alternatively he needs to demonstrate what the alternative plan would be.”
But Mr Johnson’s allies warned it was not time to change leader as they insisted Labour’s gains fell short of what was needed for the party to secure a general election victory.
A ‘massive turning point’ for Labour
Sir Keir said the results represented a “massive turning point for the Labour Party”.
“From the depths in 2019 we are back on track now for the general election, showing what the change that we’ve done, the hard change that we’ve done in the last two years, what a difference it has made,” he said.
Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow attorney general, told Sky News: “We still have a mountain to climb – we’re not pretending that we don’t.
“We’re back – and we’re on the right path to becoming the next government.”
Labour described the results as “shattering” for the Conservatives, adding that they represented a rejection of Mr Johnson.
A spokesperson for the party said: “The question every decent Conservative will be asking themselves is how much further they are willing to fall for a man who never fails to put his own interest above his councillors, his MPs, his party, and his country.”
PM facing an ‘almighty shockwave’
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the PM was facing an “almighty shockwave that will bring this Conservative government tumbling down”.
Speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley, he insisted Lib Dem gains were not protest votes against the government but “a real trend now” – partly because the Tories are “failing so badly”.