Tories demand Rishi Sunak ‘deliver’ on pledges after ‘wake-up call’ local election results

Rishi Sunak is under pressure from senior Conservatives to deliver on his flagship pledges after his own party chair described the disastrous local election results as a “wake-up call”.

The prime minister was dealt a major blow in his first election test as the Tories lost dozens of councils to Labour and the Lib Dems, leading to comparisons with the dire days of the mid-1990s.

His MPs warned that voters now needed to see tangible improvements in the NHS and the economy before next year’s general election if they were to vote for the Tories.

As a blame game erupted within the party, allies of Mr Sunak also challenged his critics to speak out and not “whisper anonymously”.

It comes as:

Mr Sunak conceded the results were “disappointing” but defiantly insisted he had not detected a “massive groundswell of movement” towards Labour.

With close to all 230 contested councils declared, the Conservatives had lost more than 1,000 councillors and 49 local authorities.

Some 22 of those are now controlled by Labour, which had picked up more than 500 councillors – while the Liberal Democrats pocketed 12 local authorities and over 400 councillors.

Among the councils now controlled by Labour are those in key general election battlegrounds, where the party hopes to unseat Tory MPs, including Swindon, Medway, Dover and East Staffordshire. Among the councils snatched by the Lib Dems was Windsor and Maidenhead, where former prime minister Theresa May is MP.

After overnight counting, experts suggested the Tories could lose a totemic 1,000 seats, but that threat appeared to recede as the day went on.

Before the vote, the prime minister had warned the party faced a “hard” set of elections in the wake of the “box-set drama” of recent months after the ousting of both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss from No 10 last year.

As ex-councillors across the country lined up to blame the government, veterans minister Johnny Mercer described it as a “terrible night” for the party, while Tory chairman Greg Hands said it was a “wake-up call”.

Senior Tories said Mr Sunak now had to show definite progress on his key priorities before next year’s general election.

One former cabinet minister, who supported Mr Sunak’s bid to become Tory leader, told The Independent he now had to “deliver on his five priorities”, which includes halving inflation in a bid to ease the cost of living crisis and cutting health service waiting lists.

Lord Barwell, a Tory peer who served as Mrs May’s chief of staff in No 10, said Mr Sunak had to “deliver improvements on the key issues that matter”, including growing the economy and rebuilding the NHS. But he warned Mr Sunak now faced a “hell of a job” to close the gap with Labour.

There were also calls for outright policy changes, with veteran MP Sir John Redwood saying voters would have turned out if the party had offered Tory policies. He criticised “high taxes, lack of control of our borders, and too much local and national government interference”.

Home secretary Suella Braverman was also warned to “do her job” and “address the big issues of the day” by Tory MP Rehman Chishti, who said her rhetoric on illegal migration “feeds into the far right”, at a count in Kent where the party lost Medway Council.

Sir Keir, meanwhile, hailed “fantastic” results, which he said showed Labour had won back the trust of voters and put the party “on course for a Labour majority at the next general election”.

His party won a series of key battlegrounds, including Stoke, where it hopes to take back seats at the general election.

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