‘Work to do’ after local election losses – Sunak

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By Sam Francis
Political reporter, BBC News

Rishi Sunak has dismissed calls to change course after poor local election results, arguing he can make “progress” with voters before a general election.

Speaking for the first time since the full scale of Tory losses was revealed, the prime minister called losing 470 councillors “bitterly disappointing”.

Tory critics have called on Mr Sunak to shift the party to the right.

But Mr Sunak told The Times newspaper he was “determined to show people that we are delivering for them”.

The Conservatives are licking their wounds after a string of local election defeats. After the final votes were counted on Sunday, the Tories had lost control of 10 councils, more than 470 council seats and a totemic loss of West Midland mayor Andy Street.

The party also lost 10 Police and Crime Commissioners to Labour, marking a potentially significant blow for the Conservatives if they aim to centre their next general election campaign on law and order.

Appearing to concede for the first time that his party could be on course to lose its majority, Mr Sunak said the local election results “suggest we are heading for a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party”.

His comments reflect analysis by leading psephologist Professor Michael Thrasher for Sky News – which suggested Labour would win 294 seats at a general election.

The projection, which has been dismissed by some polling experts, used the local election results to project a nationwide estimate of vote share at a general election.

Mr Sunak told The Times: “Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.

“The country does not need more political horse trading, but action. We are the only party that has a plan to deliver on the priorities of the people.

“I know the last few years have been tough, and I understand why people are frustrated.

“Losing good Conservative councillors and a mayor as fantastic as Andy Street who has done so much good for the West Midlands is of course bitterly disappointing.

“There is work to do and more progress to be made and I am determined that we will come together as a party and show the British people we are delivering for them.”

Electoral chances

Labour has denied it is planning alliances with other parties in order to form a government at the next general election, expected in the second half of this year.

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Labour’s election co-ordination Pat McFadden said there was now a “sense of belief” that his party could win.

He hailed the “tremendous” election results for the party, especially winning the West Midlands mayoral race which was “beyond our expectations”.

“When people look at the Labour Party now, they can see a changed Labour Party compared to a few years ago,” Mr McFadden said.

“A Labour Party that is passing the essential tests of trust that the voters look for.”

Watch: Braverman says she regrets backing Sunak for PM

Speaking on Sunday, ex-home secretary Suella Braverman said Mr Sunak’s plan was “not working”.

“There is no disguising the fact these have been terrible election results for the Conservatives,” Ms Braverman told the BBC.

Mr Sunak must “change course” towards more right-wing policies in order to win back Tory voters who are “on strike”, she added.

Although a frequent critic of the prime minister, Ms Braverman did not call for Mr Sunak’s replacement, arguing it would be “impossible” to change leaders so close to a general election.

Ms Braverman is among several conservative voices who have come out to advocate for a rightward policy shift in light of the bleak local election results.

Miriam Cates, co-chair of the New Conservatives group mostly made up of “red wall” MPs, from the party’s 2019 intake, said her party must offer “patriotism and national security” to avoid falling into the “abyss”.

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Cates called on Mr Sunak to ignore policies that “serve an international elite” and instead focus on drastically reducing immigration and reforming planning laws to boost house-building.

Former lead Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost said he believed it was “too late” to save the Conservative Party from “electoral defeat at the next general election”.

To save the party Mr Sunak must produce “more tax cuts, more spending cuts” and a “serious assault on the burden of net zero”, Lord Frost argued.

Damian Green, chair of the influential One Nation Group of Conservative MPs, said “suggesting that what we need to do is to move to the right is irrational in the face of the electorate”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, the former first secretary said: “I would just observe the seats that we have lost in the past few days – we lost to parties to the left of us.”

The Chair of the Conservative Party, Richard Holden, told the same programme that voters wanted the party to put forward a “clear vision for the country”.

“I want to see lower taxes but they are going to be delivered in a sustainable way,” he said.

“I think it is self-indulgent for us to be talking to ourselves and talking about ourselves at the moment. Whenever I go on the doorstep, I would agree with some others who have spoken, what people want to see, is [the Conservative Party] putting forward a clear vision for the country. I think we have seen a lot of that from the prime minister in the last few days: further welfare reform, building up on those universal credit changes which have fundamentally changed the way that welfare works in this county, and encouraging people into work – that has happened in the last 14 years, but we have to go further.”

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