Tories At 'Rock Bottom' Following Heavy Local Election Losses, Says Polling Expert

But analysis suggests Labour may still fail to win a Commons majority.
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The Tories are now at “rock bottom” following a disastrous set of local election results, according to a top polling expert.

Sir John Curtice said the party was at its lowest ebb since John Major was routed in 1997.

However, he said it was still unclear whether Labour would be able to win an overall majority at next year’s general election.

Rishi Sunak is on course to lose up to 1,000 council seats following a “dreadful” night for the Conservatives in local authorities across England.

Meanwhile, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens all made impressive gains.

Using the results to come up with a “projected national share” (PNS) of the vote, Curtice said that if the whole UK had gone to the polls, Labour would have won 35%, with the Conservatives on 26% and the Liberal Democrats on 20%.

Labour’s nine-point lead is their biggest in a PNS survey since 2010, but still short of the 10-point advantage experts had previously said they needed to be sure of a Commons majority.

On the Tories’ performance, Curtice said: “It’s not far off rock bottom. It’s not far off where John Major was in the 1990s.”

But asked if Labour’s lead was enough to give them a majority, he replied: “Maybe just.”

He cautioned that Labour’s lead was a result of a collapse in the Tory vote rather than making its own advances.

By contrast, Labour enjoyed PNS leads of 21 and 16 points in the 1995 and 1996 local elections before Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.

Politics professor Philip Cowley said: “This set of local elections do not look quite on that scale.

“A double digit lead is necessary but not sufficient. Being ahead by 12 points in 2004 was not enough for the Conservatives in 2005. And being 9 points ahead in 2000 was not enough for them in 2001.

“The sort of lead it currently looks as if Labour will end up with will be right on the cusp, and it will then matter much more where they have done well, as opposed to just the raw figure.”

The analysis echoed that from professor Michael Thrasher for Sky News, who said Labour’s projected national vote share looked to be between 36% and 38%, with the Conservatives between 28% and 30%.

He also said Lib Dems were “making steady seat gains” and were projected to win 18-20% of the vote.

“These vote shares and applying them to the seats decided at the last general election suggest that Labour is on course to become the largest party at the next election but falling short of winning an outright majority,” he said.

Celebrating local council victories across England this morning, Keir Starmer said the country was “on course for a Labour majority at the next general election”.

Labour argues it is the 9% lead that is important not the vote share, as the Lib Dems and others do not perform as well at general elections as they do at local elections.

The party pointed towards victories in key battleground councils including Medway, Stoke, Erewash, North Easy Derbyshire and Swindon.

Labour is also hoping a recovery in Scotland thanks to the chaos engulfing the SNP will help it win a majority at the general election.

Sunak has remained defiant despite heavy losses and rebuffed suggestions he needed to change course.

The prime minister cited his priorities as halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists and “stopping the boats”, adding: “That’s what people want us to do. That’s what I’m going to keep hard at doing.”

The general election is widely expected to take place next year, with the latest possible date available to the prime minister being January 2025.

Based on the local election results and Labour’s persistent poll lead, Sunak would have to dramatically improve his party’s standing if he has any chance of remaining in No.10.


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