Sunak says results ‘disappointing’ but voters will ‘stick with us’ at general election

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Conservative David Jones came second behind Labour’s Chris Webb
By Becky Morton
Political reporter

Labour has won the Blackpool South by-election and gained control of four councils, as counting continues in local elections in England and Wales.

The party won the seat comfortably with a 7,607 majority and a huge 26% swing from the Conservatives.

In overnight results, Labour also gained key target councils in Hartlepool, Thurrock, Rushmoor and Redditch.

Meanwhile, the Tories lost control of three councils.

The by-election in Blackpool South was triggered by the resignation of former Conservative MP Scott Benton, who was suspended from the party after being caught in a lobbying sting.

Labour candidate Chris Webb overturned a majority of 3,690 to defeat Conservative David Jones in the constituency, which was previously held by Labour from 1997 to 2019.

Reform UK almost managed to push the Tories into third place, with the party’s candidate, local charity worker Mark Butcher, winning 3,101 votes compared with 3,218 for the Tories.

The party secured 16.9% of the vote – its best by-election result since it rebranded from its previous name, the Brexit Party.

The swing of 26% from the Tories to Labour was the third biggest in a by-election since 1945.

It is the seventh by-election defeat for Rishi Sunak since he became prime minister in October 2022.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was a “seismic win” and “the most important result of the night”.

“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 message to Rishi Sunak is clear. It’s time for change, it’s time for a general election.”

Mr Webb said: “People no longer trust the Conservatives. Prime minister: do the decent thing, admit you’ve failed and call a general election.”

Tory deputy chairwoman Angela Richardson said the result “was not unexpected”.

“I think, given the circumstances that caused the by-election in the first place, it was always going to be difficult for the Conservatives,” she told the BBC.

Labour powered to a comfortable victory

In council elections in England, Labour was buoyed by gains in areas where it hopes to win seats at the next general election, which must take place by the end of January 2025.

In Hartlepool, where three years ago Labour lost the parliamentary seat to the Tories in a by-election, the party gained eight seats to take control of the council.

It hailed the result in Rushmoor – which has never had a Labour majority council – as “truly historic”. Labour gained seven seats to take control of the council in Hampshire from the Tories.

However, Labour suffered heavy losses in areas with high Muslim populations, where some voters have criticised the party’s stance on the conflict in Gaza, believing it has been too slow to call for a ceasefire.

In Oldham, where two Labour councillors quit the party over Gaza earlier this year, Labour lost control of the council.

The Greens benefited from a drop in Labour support in South Tyneside and Newcastle, where they won their first ever councillors.

The party is averaging 11% in wards it was standing in – slightly up on its previous best-ever performance in local elections, in 2019.

Reform UK also saw a strong performance overnight, with the Conservatives suffering heavily in areas the right-wing party fielded candidates.

Although it has not won any council seats so far, it is averaging 13% in wards it is standing in.

Reform leader Richard Tice said the results showed his party “is rapidly becoming the real opposition to Labour”.

It was a modest night for the Liberal Democrats, who gained only 16 council seats.

However, most of the areas the party has been targeting – primarily former Conservative strongholds in the south of England – will be counting votes later in the day.

Overall, it was a bad night for the Conservatives, who lost more than 100 council seats and control of three councils, while Labour gained 55 council seats.

The last time these seats were fought was in 2021, when the Tories benefited from the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout.

The party is still hoping to hold on in mayoral elections in Tees Valley and the West Midlands, where results are expected on Friday and Saturday.

Both Conservative candidates – Ben Houchen and Andy Street – have distanced themselves from their party branding during the campaign, instead focusing on their personal credentials and what they have achieved in office.

Losing both would be major blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and pile further pressure on his leadership.

There are nine other mayoral contests taking place – including in London, Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region.

The East Midlands, the North East, and York and North Yorkshire are also electing mayors for the first time.

Elsewhere, 37 police and crime commissioners are being elected in England and Wales.

Votes are still being counted in the majority of councils, with the final declarations not expected until Sunday.

23 hours ago5 hours ago18 April


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