Tories lose almost half of councillors but Tees Valley result gives PM solace

The Prime Minister has looked to the Tees Valley for consolation as his party suffered a drubbing in the local elections.

Lord Ben Houchen’s re-election on Teesside was one of the few bright spots for the Conservatives as the party lost around 50% of its councillors across England just months away from a general election.

Meanwhile, Labour hailed a “truly historic” result in Rishi Sunak’s own backyard of York and North Yorkshire, where David Skaith defeated Tory Keane Duncan by almost 15,000 votes.

Speaking at Northallerton Town Football Club, Sir Keir Starmer said the result was a “historic victory” for Labour in “the heart of Tory territory”.

He said: “We’ve had a positive campaign here and I am very, very proud to stand here as leader of the Labour Party to celebrate this historic victory.

“And it is a historic victory – these are places where we would not have usually had a Labour Party success but we’ve been able to create that success and persuade people to vote for us.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves celebrate with David Skaith at Northallerton Town Football Club
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer (centre) and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves celebrate with David Skaith at Northallerton Town Football Club (Owen Humphreys/PA)

In the East Midlands, Labour’s Claire Ward became the region’s first elected mayor with a majority of more than 50,000 votes over Tory Ben Bradley who also sits as MP for Mansfield and leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.

Of the 107 councils that held elections on Thursday, 95 have declared their full results, with the Conservatives losing more than half of the seats it has been defending so far.

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Labour won control of eight councils as it gained 203 seats, while the Liberal Democrats gained 52 seats and the Greens 48.

Further results are expected over the weekend, including key mayoral contests in London and the West Midlands.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan is attempting to secure re-election in London, while Conservative Andy Street is defending his position in the West Midlands.

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Other results still to be announced include council elections in the South and West of England where the Liberal Democrats and Greens hope to make progress.

But while he acknowledged that results were “disappointing”, the Prime Minister was keen to stress his party’s victory in Tees Valley as a sign that Labour was not on course to win the general election.

Appearing alongside Lord Houchen at a victory rally, Mr Sunak said: “I’ve got a message for the Labour Party too because they know that they have to win here in order to win a general election – they know that.

“They assumed that Tees Valley would stroll back to them – but it didn’t.”

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Rishi Sunak said the results had been ‘disappointing’ but hailed his party’s victory in Tees Valley (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Lord Houchen denied that he had sought to distance himself from Mr Sunak, saying: “People around here know I’m a Conservative.”

Victory in Tees Valley is likely to have quelled efforts to topple Mr Sunak in light of other local election results, and his position will be further secured if the Tories can hold onto the West Midlands mayoralty.

Labour suffered setbacks in Oldham and Kirklees, where it lost control of the councils after victories for independent candidates opposed to its stance on the conflict in Gaza.

Commentators suggested anger at Labour’s position on Gaza had cost it votes in other areas of the country such as Rochdale.

Sir Keir conceded he was “concerned wherever we lose votes”, with the party’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden admitting the crisis in the Middle East was likely to have been a factor.

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(PA Graphics)

– Labour won Rushmoor in Hampshire and Adur in West Sussex for the first time and claimed the council in general election bellwether Redditch.

– Labour also secured control of Milton Keynes Council and Nuneaton and Bedworth Council, both covering key Westminster seats the party is looking to take at the general election.

– Labour won Hartlepool council, regaining ground in an area where the party suffered a Westminster by-election disaster in 2021.

– The Tories clung on by a single seat in Harlow, although the total includes one councillor who was suspended by the party last month.

– Labour lost control of Oldham and Kirklees councils, with gains made by independents possibly as a result of Sir Keir’s stance on the war in Gaza.

– The Greens became the largest party on Hastings Council, trebling its seats on the council.

– The Women’s Equality Party gained its first councillor, Stacy Hart winning a seat on Basingstoke and Deane Council, while George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain gained two seats in Rochdale and one on Manchester City Council.

– Labour gained police and crime commissioners from the Conservatives in Cumbria, Avon and Somerset, and Norfolk.

Hailing the victory, Sir Keir said: “This is the one contest where voters had the chance to send a message to Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives directly, and that message is an overwhelming vote for change.”

The strong showing by Reform UK will add to Tory unease about Mr Sunak’s ability to lead the party to a general election victory, with Mr Holden saying on Friday that votes for the party will “help Labour”.

Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice told the PA news agency his party had “rapidly become the real opposition to Labour, whether it’s in the North, the Midlands, we know it’s the case in Wales”.

In Sunderland, one of the few councils where Reform fought every seat, it beat the Conservatives into third place in 16 of the 25 seats up for grabs while Labour made a net gain of six to increase its comfortable majority.

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