Labour hails local election wins but Sunak says public will 'stick with' Tories at general election despite poor results

3 May 2024, 15:19 | Updated: 3 May 2024, 18:57

Labour hails big local election wins but Sunak says public will stick with Tories at general election despite dismal results
Labour hails big local election wins but Sunak says public will stick with Tories at general election despite dismal results. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Labour has welcomed several key local election results today as the Conservatives were hit with major losses in battleground areas.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said "people are fed up with a failed government" as he addressed a Labour rally after David Skaith's win at the York and North Yorkshire mayoral election.

The opposition leader claimed the "historic victory" for Labour in "the heart of Tory territory" where Rishi Sunak's own constituency of Richmond is located.

"These are places where we would not have usually had a Labour Party success but we've been able to create that success and persuade people to vote for us."

To the voters, he said: "Thank you for putting your trust in Labour, we will not let you down. It is a "very good day for Labour."

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said despite the "disappointing" results he "knows" that people will "stick with" the Conservatives at the general election.

Read more: Local Elections Live 2024: Jubilant Keir Starmer celebrates Labour by-election victory at rally - as Tories topple

Read more: Starmer hails 'historic campaign' after Blackpool South victory, as Labour win dozens of council seats

Rishi Sunak acknowledges 'disappointing' local election results

Ben Houchen with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Ben Houchen with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

Speaking after Ben Houchen won the Tees Valley mayoral race, Mr Sunak claimed that Labour had "assumed" they would emerge victorious as he accused the opposition party of "throwing mud" in the campaign.

The prime minister has been beset by rumours about a leadership challenge recently, amid poor polling numbers ahead of a general election in the coming months.

Speaking at a rally for Mr Houchen after the results came in, Mr Sunak said: "I've got a message for the Labour Party... because they know that they had to win here in order to win a general election.

"They assumed that Tees Valley would just stroll back to them. But it didn't. It didn't. People knew that they couldn't be taken for granted.

"They knew that it was Ben and the Conservatives that delivered for them and they stuck with you in this election.

"And I know that the general election, they're going to stick with us too, because they don't want to be taken for granted and they know that it's you and it's the Conservatives that are building a brighter future for Teeside and a brighter future for Britain."

The Conservatives have suffered a poor set of local election results, which has piled further pressure on Mr Sunak.

But he insisted earlier on Friday morning that he was working to "deliver" for the country.

He said: "Obviously it's disappointing to lose good, hard-working Conservative councillors, and I'm grateful to them for all their service in local government."

He said: "I'm focused completely on the job at hand - that's delivering for people across the country."

Conservative peer: The Tories have been 'delivering chaos'

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey stands in front of Tory 'dinosaurs' as he arrives to join local Lib Dem campaigners
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey stands in front of Tory 'dinosaurs' as he arrives to join local Lib Dem campaigners. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile, speaking in Northallerton after Labour's David Skaith won the mayoral election in York and North Yorkshire, Sir Keir Starmer hailed Ms Skaith’s victory as “an amazing moment in history”.

He said: “It’s an amazing moment in history to have a Labour victory here.

“We have had really good results across the country all day long, but this is a very, very special moment, David, to become the mayor here.

Mr Skaith won by almost 15,000 votes in Rishi Sunak’s backyard.

As well as losing several local authorities and dozens of council seats, the Conservatives also lost the Blackpool South constituency to Labour in a by-election.

Polling expert Sir John Curtice told LBC that the results were "probably... one of the worst, if not the worst, Conservative performance in local government elections for the last 40 years."

It comes as Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey pledged to "make this Conservative Government history".

Appearing at a rally in Winchester alongside activists dressed in dinosaur costumes wearing blue rosettes, Sir Ed said: "These results show what we all know: we need a general election now.

"No matter how long Rishi Sunak stays squatting in Downing Street, the Liberal Democrat general election campaign starts today to make this Conservative Government history.

"From Cheltenham to Hull and here in Hampshire - people are choosing the Liberal Democrats to make that change happen. To be their strong local champions, work tirelessly for their communities and deliver the fair deal people deserve."

Earlier, the Conservative party chairman Richard Holden told LBC's Nick Ferrari that the election results were "difficult".

But Mr Holden said that his party should keep Mr Sunak in Downing Street, despite rumblings of discontent from backbenchers and a rumoured plan to replace him with Penny Mordaunt if the local elections went badly.

Asked by Nick if he thought that the Prime Minister should remain in post, he said "very much so", listing off the recent global and domestic problems faced by the government.

"I genuinely think while we’re facing those tough challenges we’ve got the right man for the job," he said.

Read more: Tories in trouble as Labour wins by-election and takes 'home of British Army' while Reform sees surge in votes across UK

Read more: Local Elections Live 2024: Tories face worst election results in 40 years as Labour celebrate Red Wall win in Blackpool

Ben Houchen re-elected for the Tories in Tees Valley

Watch Again: Nick Ferrari quizzes Tory Party Chairman Richard Holden

"People aren’t voting in these local elections in the general election - they’re not voting to change the government of the country," he said.

With around a third of council elections declared, the Conservatives have lost about 100 seats, and ceded control of several local authorities to Labour - including Thurrock and Rushmoor.

In the Blackpool South constituency, Labour secured a majority of 7,607. It was the third biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

Labour's victory in Rushmoor - known as "the home of the British Army" - came despite it being run by the Tories for the past 24 years.

Labour set for 'comfortable majority' at next election, polling expert declares

Mr Holden said that the results were "not good" for the Conservative party.

He added: "I’ve been out campaigning with a lot of our Conservative campaigners and candidates around the country - a lot of them will be feeling pretty bruised this morning.

"These are a difficult set of election results, coming off 2021 [which] was a very high watermark, when we gained seats in government after 11 years.

"But for those guys on the ground, many of whom have put their heart and souls into this, it’s going to be a very tough couple of days…"

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street. Picture: Alamy

The Conservatives retained control of Harlow and Fareham councils, and Mr Holden said there were "some mixed results".

"I think there’s still a long way to go..." he said. "Keir Starmer took a lot of store by taking Harlow and he visited there a couple of times during the campaign."

He also pointed out that the local election turnouts were low, and claimed that in a general election more people would vote for his party.

In Blackpool South, the Conservatives only held off Reform by around 100 votes to take second place. Reform UK's leader Richard Tice said his party had "rapidly become the real opposition to Labour, whether it's in the North, the Midlands, we know it's the case in Wales".

Richard Holden
Richard Holden. Picture: Alamy

But Mr Holden denied that the right-wing party were a serious threat.

"All a vote reform does is help Keir Starmer and the Labour Party," he said.

Last time Mr Holden was on Nick's show, he said that he had yet to find a seat for the general election - and this was still the case as of Friday morning.

He maintained that he definitely wanted to stand in the election. "I will be going for one, but I am still to find one," he said. "We shall see - you’ll be the first to know when I get one," he told Nick.

Newly elected Labour MP Chris Webb, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer celebrating at Blackpool Cricket Club
Newly elected Labour MP Chris Webb, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer celebrating at Blackpool Cricket Club. Picture: Alamy

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Blackpool win was "the most important result today".

"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," he said.

"The swing towards the Labour Party in Blackpool South is truly historic and shows that we are firmly back in the service of working people.

"I am so proud of the positive campaign we ran. To those who have put their trust in us in Blackpool, and those considering giving Labour their vote, we are ready to serve your interests.

"Our new Labour MP Chris Webb has shown that after years of neglect with the Tories, there is a better alternative. The message to Rishi Sunak is clear. It’s time for change, it’s time for a general election."

Elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said: "The only thing that's stopped this result from being basically an unmitigated disaster for the Conservatives was the fact they just narrowly squeaked ahead of Reform."

He added: "Basically the project that Rishi Sunak is meant to be there to achieve, which is to narrow the gap on Labour, that project still has yet to provide any visible benefit."

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