Send message to Starmer, Sunak urges voters ahead of local elections

The Prime Minister has urged voters to “send a message to Keir Starmer” as he launched the Conservatives’ local election campaign.

Speaking at a rally in Heanor, Derbyshire, Rishi Sunak said the Labour leader was “arrogantly taking the British people for granted” and “assuming that he can just stroll into Number 10 without saying what he would do”.

Talking up the achievements of Conservative mayors such as Ben Houchen and Andy Street ahead of the election on May 2, Mr Sunak attacked the financial record of Labour-run councils, saying: “They tax you more and deliver less.”

Rishi Sunak visit to Derbyshire
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to employees during a local elections campaign launch (Darren Staples/PA)

“After having a fire-sale of assets, they still can’t balance the books, in contrast to the extraordinarily well-run Conservative Nottinghamshire County Council.

“Whenever Labour runs something, they run it into the ground. In Birmingham, they have effectively bankrupted the largest local authority in Europe. They have saddled their constituents with a 21% council tax rise.”

Eight councils, run by both Labour and the Conservatives, have declared effective bankruptcy since 2018, with others warning they could be next as they struggle to make further cuts.

In Derbyshire, where Mr Sunak launched his party’s local election campaign, the Conservatives have a commanding 18-seat majority on the county council – but suffered significant losses in the district council elections last year.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He was joined by Ben Bradley, MP for Mansfield and leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, who is looking to become the first mayor of the East Midlands at the elections in May.

Mr Sunak said: “There’s no-one better to be your first mayor than Ben Bradley. Not only did Ben literally create this role, he also has a track record of bringing in investment.”

Nationally, last year’s local elections saw the Conservatives lose more than 1,000 councillors, while Labour overtook them to become the largest party in local government.

Since then, the Conservatives’ polling position has deteriorated, reaching depths last seen under Liz Truss’s brief leadership as the party faces a 20-point gap to Labour and an increasing challenge from the right in the shape of Reform UK.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

A Tory source said the party had to be “realistic” about its prospects and “allocate resources accordingly” after securing just 21% of the vote in the last Manchester mayoral election.

In London, a Savanta poll published on Friday suggested Conservative candidate Susan Hall trailed incumbent Sadiq Khan by 26 points, despite the public being split on the Mayor’s record in office.

The poll showed 51% of voters saying they would back Mr Khan against just 27% who said they would vote for Ms Hall, with younger voters and those who are Asian or black overwhelmingly backing the Mayor.

On Friday, Mr Sunak attacked Mr Khan’s record, saying he was “more interested in virtue signalling than delivering” and “failing on crime, failing on housing” and wanted to “tax motorists off the road”.

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