Tory Turmoil: Sunak Stands Firm Despite Election Setbacks

Featured & Cover Tory Turmoil Sunak Stands Firm Despite Election Setbacks

Rishi Sunak has rebuffed calls for a change in direction following disappointing local election outcomes, asserting his ability to foster “progress” among voters prior to a general election.

In his initial response since the extent of Tory setbacks became evident, the prime minister lamented the loss of 470 councillors as “deeply disappointing”.

Critics within the Tory party have urged Sunak to steer towards the right.

However, Sunak expressed to The Times his determination to unify the party, stating, “I am determined that we will come together as a party.”

The Conservative party is reeling from a series of defeats in local elections. After the final tally on Sunday, they relinquished control of 10 councils, over 470 council seats, and suffered the symbolic defeat of West Midlands mayor Andy Street.

Additionally, the party ceded 10 Police and Crime Commissioners to Labour, posing a potentially significant setback for the Conservatives if they intend to focalize their next general election campaign on law and order.

Acknowledging for the first time that his party might be on course to lose its majority, Sunak conceded, “The local election results suggest we are heading for a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party.”

In an interview with The Times, he cautioned against the prospect of Keir Starmer leading a government backed by the SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Greens, deeming it disastrous for Britain.

Sunak emphasized the necessity for action, asserting, “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.”

His remarks parallel the analysis by leading psephologist Prof Michael Thrasher for Sky News, which projected that Labour would secure 294 seats in a general election.

The projection, though contested by some polling experts, extrapolated the nationwide vote share at a general election from the local election results. It operated on the assumption that voting patterns in the local elections would mirror those in a general election, notwithstanding the usual stronger performance of smaller parties and independent candidates in local elections.

Moreover, it did not factor in potential developments in Scotland, relying instead on the 2019 general election results, despite expectations of a stronger showing for Labour there this year.

Polling expert Prof Sir John Curtice noted that winning more seats in Scotland alone probably wouldn’t suffice for Labour to secure a majority. Nonetheless, he observed that the impact of Reform UK was subdued in the local elections as they contested only one in six wards. Where they did contest, there was a significant decline in the Conservative vote, indicating that they could wield greater influence in a general election, given their pledge to field candidates in every seat across England, Scotland, and Wales.

Health Minister Maria Caulfield acknowledged the caveats surrounding the projection. However, she asserted that last week’s results indicated former Conservative voters were abstaining rather than defecting to Labour, emphasizing, “they want a reason to vote for us.”

Labour refuted claims of planning alliances with other parties to form a government in the forthcoming general election, expected in the latter half of the year.

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Labour’s election coordinator Pat McFadden expressed confidence in his party’s prospects, citing a growing belief in victory. He hailed the party’s remarkable election outcomes, particularly the unexpected triumph in the West Midlands mayoral race.

Former Home Secretary Suella Braverman criticized Sunak’s strategy as ineffective, acknowledging the dismal election results for the Conservatives. However, while advocating for a rightward shift in policies to recapture disenchanted Tory voters, she stopped short of calling for Sunak’s replacement, deeming it impractical so close to a general election.

Braverman is among several conservative voices advocating for a shift to the right following the bleak local election results. Miriam Cates, co-chair of the New Conservatives group primarily comprising “red wall” MPs from the 2019 intake, urged the party to emphasize “patriotism and national security” to avoid decline.

In an op-ed for the Telegraph, Cates urged Sunak to prioritize policies that resonate domestically over those catering to an international elite, proposing measures such as substantial immigration reduction and planning law reforms to stimulate house-building.

Former lead Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost expressed skepticism about rescuing the Conservative Party from electoral defeat in the next general election, contending that Sunak must implement “more tax cuts, more spending cuts,” and a “serious assault on the burden of net zero” to salvage the party’s prospects.

Contrarily, Damian Green, chairman of the centrist One Nation Group of Conservative MPs, criticized calls for a rightward shift as irrational, pointing out that recent losses were to parties on the left.

Conservative Party chairman Richard Holden stressed the need for the party to articulate a clear vision for the country rather than engaging in internal discussions, deeming it self-indulgent in the current climate

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