Crushing Tory losses in London and West Midlands pile pressure on Sunak

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Rishi Sunak was facing renewed Conservative unrest on Saturday night after his party suffered crushing defeats in a series of mayoral contests including London and its flagship West Midlands.

Some Tory MPs expressed dismay and anger, claiming they had been led to believe that Andy Street, the West Midlands mayor, would win and that the party would run Labour mayor Sadiq Khan close in London.

But Khan easily defeated his rival Susan Hall to secure a third term in City Hall and then the Tories suffered an agonising defeat in the West Midlands, where Labour’s candidate Richard Parker won by the narrowest of margins.

Street’s defeat by just 1,508 votes was confirmed just before 9pm on Saturday after a recount, capping a disastrous set of local elections for the Conservatives.

The result is a big setback for Sunak. It is likely to reshape the political narrative and further destabilise morale among Tory MPs in a general election year.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party also won the mayoralties of Greater Manchester, Liverpool region and West Yorkshire; results over the last 48 hours appeared to put him on course for Downing Street.

The Conservatives lost about 400 council seats as well as the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election on a 26 per cent swing to Labour. The BBC gave the Tories a record low 25 per cent projected national vote share.

Sunak was left clinging to a single mayoral victory. Lord Ben Houchen held on in Tees Valley with a reduced majority, but only after fighting a campaign in which he distanced himself from the Conservative party and Sunak, even failing to wear a blue rosette at his count.

On Friday Sunak appeared to have headed off a potential mutiny by Tory rightwingers. Rebel Tory MPs said they were reassured by party insiders that results on Saturday would provide some cheer and the media reported rumours that the contest in London would be close.

But the defeats that played out during the course of Saturday changed the mood among some MPs. “I don’t think he’s out of the woods,” said one former cabinet minister, referring to Sunak’s position.

“People saying the rebellion is over are being rather premature. I think the loss of Street as well as Hall will cause a lot of people to consider whether it’s sensible to remain on the current course.”

Another senior backbencher claimed that Tory officials had “over-briefed” the likelihood of Conservative success in London and West Midlands. Referring to Sunak, he said: “I think he’s in deep shit.”

Tory officials insist there was no organised briefing of MPs on the likely outcome of the two mayoral contests.

Conservative HQ has been ringing MPs over the weekend to discuss the results, but insisted this was part of a normal operation during local elections and not a “nerve calming” exercise.

Most Tory MPs believe the renewed disquiet will not translate into an attempted putsch against Sunak when they return to Westminster on Tuesday. A total of 52 MPs have to submit letters of no confidence to trigger a confidence vote.

“I think things might be quite calm,” said one Tory grandee, noting that the results did not suggest the party was facing an “apocalypse” at the general election. Asked if there would be a mutiny, one long-standing Tory critic of Sunak said: “I doubt it.”

It was a grim Saturday for Sunak. In Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham easily landed another term as Labour mayor while the party also won other mayoralties, including Liverpool, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, by big margins.

Despite speculation that the mayoral contest in London could be tight, Khan attracted more than 1mn votes, a 43.8 per cent vote share, easily seeing off Hall, who won 32.7 per cent.

On Saturday night the Tory backlash was under way. Suella Braverman, former home secretary, wrote in the Telegraph: “Either we start fighting to win now, or we’ll have no one else to blame when this week’s political earthquake is made to look like a mere tremor come the general election night.”

Sir Simon Clarke, another former minister and leading critic of Sunak, said in a Conservative WhatsApp group: “These results are awful and should be a massive wake-up call.”

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