Rishi Sunak Limps On As Tory Rebellion Crumbles Despite Miserable Local Elections

The prime minister is safe ... for now.
Rishi Sunak congratulates Ben Houchen on his re-election as Tees Valley mayor, the only bright spot so far on another miserable night for the PM.
Rishi Sunak congratulates Ben Houchen on his re-election as Tees Valley mayor, the only bright spot so far on another miserable night for the PM.
Ian Forsyth via Getty Images

So now we know. Rishi Sunak will definitely lead the Tories into the general election, whenever he decides to call it.

The mooted rebellion which was set to be triggered following the local elections crashed on take-off, with even one of the prime minister’s leading critics admitting his leadership was not under threat - at least for now.

Dame Andrea Jenkyns, one of only two Tories to publicly declare sending in a letter of no confidence in his leadership, said: “I’m not sure colleagues are going to be putting [more] letters in, so we’re working with what we’ve got.”

That is despite the Conservatives having, by any measure, a disastrous local election.

They are well on course to lose up to 500 council seats, while a host of previously true blue local authorities fell to Labour.

Professor Richard Toye of Exeter University said: “The results are obviously very bad for the Conservatives and there is a natural tendency to focus on the immediate consequences for Sunak and the prospects for the general election.

“But it should be noted the loss of councillor will have a long-term negative impact on the Tory electoral ground game.”

“If we ignore the noise, the underlying signal from this set of elections is a steady drumbeat of lost Conservative council seats,” said Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the local government information unit.

The only bright spot so far for the PM has been the re-election of Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen, who spent the campaign trying to convince voters that he wasn’t really a Conservative and was not associated in any way with Sunak.

“The ultimate irony is that it’s Houchen who has saved his premiership,” a senior Tory told HuffPost UK.

A veteran Tory backbencher added: “Houchen essentially ran as an independent with no reference to the Conservatives or Sunak, so he can’t really claim that as a great party win.”

But as Sunak flew to the north-east to bask in Houchen’s reflected glory, he will know that the local elections - plus Labour’s thumping victory in Blackpool South - confirmed that he is heading for the Downing Street exit later this year.

Not least because even his own Richmond constituency now has a Labour mayor.

One former cabinet minister said: “The results are in line with the opinion polls of last 18 months.

“Lethargy and defeatism are now prevalent among Tory MPs and that will save him. Most of them just want six months more pay and so have no real buy-in to the outcome of the general election.”

Tomorrow will bring some more relief for Sunak, when Andy Street is almost certainly re-elected for a third term as mayor of West Midlands.

And Labour is growing increasingly worried that Susan Hall could yet pull off an improbable victory against Sadiq Khan in London.

But a veteran Tory backbencher said: “The London thing is down to Kahn’s unpopularity. A serious candidate could have won on the same ticket as Houchen and Street.”

The local elections have left the Tories in the worst of all worlds - bad enough to confirm the party is heading for opposition, but not so bad that a new leader is necessary.

So Sunak limps on towards his date with destiny - and the unforgiving verdict of the British electorate.


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