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Tory council leaders point finger at Johnson after election losses blamed on Partygate

Grassroots Conservatives say PM should consider his position, while Labour takes control of Westminster and Wandsworth

Two Conservative candidates ponder the results at the count in Westminster where Labour was making gains.

Local Conservative leaders have urged Boris Johnson to consider his position, after losing flagship London councils to Labour and council seats across the south of England 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 and Barnet for the first time since their creation in 1964.

Johnson’s party was 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 9am on Friday, the Tories had lost 122 seats in England – one in six contested – suggesting about 250 lost overall.

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.”

The leaders of Portsmouth council also expressed frustration. Simon Bosher, the most senior Tory in Portsmouth, where the Lib Dem were expected to make gains, said the leadership in Westminster needed to “take a good, long hard look in the mirror” to find out why it had lost four seats.

Asked if he meant the prime minister, he 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.

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”.

Senior Conservatives sought to downplay the significant of the losses. Oliver Dowden, the party’s co-chair, said there had been “some difficult results” and added: “Given that we’re mid-term, I think it really doesn’t show that Labour have the momentum to form the next government.”

Dowden blamed “challenging headlines for the past few months”, which he said people “would expect after 12 years in office”. He denied Johnson had become an electoral liability, telling Sky News: “We need that kind of bold leadership.”

Labour’s national campaign coordinator, Shabana Mahmood, claimed the results marked a “turning point” for her party

“After the disastrous results of 2019, these early results are showing the progress we have made thanks to Keir’s leadership,” she said, arguing the party was “winning in vital parliamentary battlegrounds across the country”.

However, Labour appeared to be failing to make significant gains outside London and southern England, with the Conservatives pointing out that Starmer’s party had gone backwards on its 2018 showing in areas including Nuneaton, Hartlepool, Sandwell and Amber Valley.

Elections expert professor John Curtice told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, “the trouble is, outside of London, Labour share of the vote was actually down slightly.

“In terms of seats won and lost, while it’s made net gains in London, it’s actually made a slight net loss outside of London. So outside of London it’s a rather different story. And of course Labour can’t win Westminster parliament by simply winning Westminster council.

Barnet has a significant population of Jewish voters, and Labour’s victory in the outer London borough 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.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan

It was the Lib Dems, independents and Green party who had gained the most seats by Friday morning, however, particularly in the south of England in places such as Oxfordshire, Eastleigh and Portsmouth. By 9am, Labour had gained 34 seats, while the Lib Dems put on 59 and the Greens added 23.

The Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said: “People across the UK are fed up with being ignored and taken for granted by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.

“It’s clear that, in many parts of the country, it is the Liberal Democrats who can defeat the Conservatives and get Boris Johnson out of Downing Street.”

Votes being counted in Oxford town hall.

Tory MPs will be deciding within days whether to launch a challenge against Johnson on the basis of the local election results, with 54 letters of no confidence needed to trigger a vote on his future.

A few Conservateive MPs also criticised the government. Stephen Hammond, the 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.

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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.

“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”.

He also highlighted that Labour did not appear so far to be benefiting as much as it 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.

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Source: This post first appeared on The Guardian

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