Local Conservative leaders have called on Boris Johnson to consider his position after losing flagship London councils to Labour and council seats across the south to the Lib Dems, with several blaming Partygate and the cost of living crisis.
In a boost for Labour, it took control of several Tory flagship councils in London, including Wandsworth for the first since the 1970s and Westminster for the first time since its creation in 1964. The Conservatives have also conceded in previously Tory-dominated Barnet.
Johnson’s party were swept aside by Labour in Cumberland and Southampton, as well as losing control of West Oxfordshire and Portsmouth, with the Liberal Democrats becoming the largest party.
By 5am on Friday, the Tories had lost about 100 seats in England – one in six contested – suggesting about 250 lost overall.
Meanwhile, Labour clinched a symbolic victory in Barnet, as the number of Conservative councillors plummeted by a third. Taking control of the council, which has a significant population of Jewish voters, will be seen as an endorsement of Keir Starmer’s efforts to tackle antisemitism in the party.
Barry Rawlings, the leader of the Labour group, told the BBC: “I’ll be honest, it’s not us being wonderful. “I think a lot of Conservatives haven’t voted this time, I think they feel alienated from No 10 and that they are … disappointed with Boris Johnson and so not voting.”
However, Labour failed to make large gains in the rest of the country outside London, losing Hull council to the Lib Dems and failing to make huge progress in terms of seats outside the capital. The party’s strongest showings were in Cumberland, where it won 30 seats compared with seven for the Tories, and it also took Southampton.
But it was the Lib Dems, independents and Green party who had gained the most seats by the early hours of Friday morning, particularly in the south of England in places such as Oxfordshire, Eastleigh and Portsmouth. By 6am, Labour had gained 27 seats, while the Lib Dems put on 46 and the Greens added 20.
However, disappointed Tory council leaders said MPs should reflect on the losses and consider removing the prime minister from office.
John Mallinson, the Conservative leader of Carlisle city council, told the BBC he had “lost some very good colleagues” in the Cumberland local election, and had found it “difficult to drag the debate back to local issues” while campaigning because of Partygate and the cost of living crisis.
He also criticised the “patronising” comments of George Eustice, the environment secretary, who had suggested people struggling to buy food should opt for value brands.
He added: “I think it is not just Partygate, there is the integrity issue. Basically I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth.”
Asked if Conservative MPs should remove Johnson, he said: “That would be my preference, yes.”
Asked if he meant the prime minister when he referred to those in power, Bosher added: “I think Boris does need to take a good, strong look in the mirror as well because I think he needs to look at those people that we have lost tonight … because those are people that are actually bearing the brunt on the doorstep of behaviour of what’s been going on in Westminster.
“There is a degree of anger and a degree of frustration” at the situation in Westminster, he said.
In Worcester, the Tory council leader, Mark Bayliss, left his count early, saying it was a bad night for his party and blamed Partygate for traditional Conservative voters staying home. The council went into no overall control, with the Tories losing a seat each to Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.
Ravi Govindia, the outgoing Conservative leader of Wandsworth council, said “inevitably other events have clouded the judgment of people in Wandsworth”, and admitted voters raised “the issue of Boris Johnson”, although he declined to criticise the prime minister personally.
Dave Thomas, the Barnet council leader, said there had been a “perfect storm” of a cost of living crisis, 12 years of Conservative national government, and boundary changes. He said Partygate “really was an issue that impacted us”, in addition to rising prices and the national insurance hike. He described it as a “warning shot” from Conservative supporters, with many deciding to stay home, saying it “does not bode well” for the party to retain seats in the general election.
A few Tory MPs also criticised the government. Stephen Hammond, the Conservative MP for Wimbledon, where the Tories were displaced as second party by the Lib Dems on Merton Council, said Partygate had been a “large influence on the voters”. He said there should be a “clarion bell” warning about the cost of living crisis as well, and suggested Johnson should bring back former cabinet ministers such as Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark.
Royston Smith, the Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen, where the party lost control to Labour, said the electorate “deserve a solution” to worries about the cost of living, calling for a cut to VAT on energy bills.
Despite limited gains by Labour outside London, the party pointed to 10 Brexit-voting areas where Labour gained vote share: Carlisle, Copeland, Great Grimsby, Hartlepool, Leigh, Lincoln, Southport, Thurrock, West Bromwich West and Workington.
In terms of overall vote share in England, at 4am on Friday, the Tories were down 4%, Labour was down 1%, the Lib Dems up 2% and the Greens up 3% compared with the same seats when they were last up for election in 2018. Sky reported an analysis that the Tories were down 10% since the 2019 general election, with Labour showing a small lead.
“These results are confirming that the Conservatives have suffered something of a rebuff from the electorate,” said John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde.
He told the BBC the Conservatives were losing ground more in the south than the north, and that the party’s southern MPs would be worried, even though the national picture “may not look quite as bad for the Tories as expected”.
However, he also highlighted that Labour did not appear so far to be benefiting as much as they might have expected, with Lib Dems, Greens and independents taking as many wards off the Tories in the south.
Council seats are being contested in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England, while there are also elections to Stormont in Northern Ireland. The first seats to declare overnight were all English councils, with the majority planning to announce results later on Friday.
Source: The Epochtimes