Local elections 2022: Tory council leaders point finger at Johnson after losses blamed on Partygate

Local Tory leaders have called on Boris Johnson to consider his position after losses to the Lib Dems and Labour in the local elections which several blamed on Partygate and the cost of living crisis.

The Conservatives suffered a near wipeout to Labour in Cumberland, where there are three Tory MPs, as well as losing control of West Oxfordshire and Portsmouth, with the Liberal Democrats becoming the largest party.

In London, the Tories were also expected to lose their flagship Wandsworth council to Labour, as well as Barnet, and possibly even Westminster.

By 4am on Friday, with almost half of all seats in England declared, the Tories had lose about 66 seats – or one in six contested – suggesting about 250 lost overall.

However, Labour failed to make large gains in the rest of the country outside London, losing Hull council to the Lib Dems and not making huge progress in terms of seats outside the capital. Its strongest shows were in Cumberland, where it won 28 seats compared with seven for the Tories, and it was also expected to take Southampton.

But it was the Lib Dems, independents and Green party who had gained the most seats in the early hours of the morning, particularly in the south of England.

The Conservatives did not do as badly as many election experts predicted, especially after setting expectations low, with a string of backbenchers hitting the airwaves to defend Johnson in the early hours of the morning.

However, disappointed Tory council leaders said MPs should reflect on the losses and consider removing Johnson from office.

John Mallinson, Conservative leader of Carlisle city council, told the BBC that 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 and Worcester councils also expressed frustration. Simon Bosher, the most senior Tory in Portsmouth, which was expected to see Lib Dem gains, said the leadership in Westminster needed to “take a good, long hard look in the mirror” to find out why he had lost four seats.

Asked if he meant the prime minister when he referred to those in power, Bosher 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.

“There is a degree of anger and a degree of frustration” at the situation in Westminster, he said.

In Worcester, the Tory council leader, Mark Bayliss, left his count early, saying it was a bad night for his party and blamed Partygate for traditional Conservative voters staying home. The council went into no overall control, with the Tories losing a seat each to Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens.

Despite limited gains by Labour, 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.

In terms of overall vote share in England, the Tories were down 4%, Labour was down 1%, the Lib Dems up 2% and the Greens up 3% compared with the same seats when they were last up for election in 2018. Sky reported an analysis that the Tories were down 10% since the 2019 general election, with Labour showing a small lead.

“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 that 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”.

However, he also highlighted that Labour did not appear so far to be benefiting as much as they might have expected, with Lib Dems, Greens and independents taking as many wards off the Tories in the south.

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