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By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

Two sleeps is a long time in politics

Frank McKenna reflects of a disastrous set of local election results for the government in last week’s polls.

On Friday evening, Rishi Sunak went to bed with a smile on his face. The Tories had held the Tees Valley mayoralty and looked set to secure a win in the West Midlands too. There were even rumours, confirmed by BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, that there was a chance of the Conservatives pulling off a shock victory in London over Sadiq Khan.

By Sunday morning, he was waking up to a verbal television battering from his former Home Secretary Suella Braverman – who was telling Kuenssberg that the dismal performance of her party in the local polls on Thursday had to be owned 100% by the Prime Minister.

Two sleeps is a long time in politics!

Had Andy Street managed to retain his mayoral role in the West Midlands, then Conservative central office would have been spinning a much more positive story than they were able to after their man in Birmingham – an excellent mayor, who had run his campaign distancing himself from Sunak and the government as much as he possibly could – had fallen short of winning a third term by just over 1500 votes.

The defeat of the popular former boss of John Lewis in the Midlands, the trouncing in the Blackpool South parliamentary by-election, where Labour secured a 20plus% swing, and Reform came within 100 votes of beating the Tories into second place, the loss of almost 500 council seats – and Londoners giving Labour mayor Khan an increased majority, rather than the rumoured bloody nose, means that this set of election results was nothing short of catastrophic for the Conservatives.     

Labours victory in the new mayoral region of York and North Yorkshire, in Sunak’s backyard and in normal times a Tory stronghold, in the East Midlands, and in the North East – where Keir Starmer’s team fought off a strong challenge from an Independent candidate – not to mention a 16% swing to Labour in that Tees Valley contest where the popular Ben Houchen was re-elected- reinforce the general assumption that change is inevitable.

Although one pollster suggested that these poll numbers are pointing to a hung parliament, that analysis failed to take account of probable Labour gains in Scotland, the significant personal vote that both Houchen and Andy Street will have secured, the strong showing of minor parties in local elections, unlikely to be repeated in a national poll, and a resurgent Reform Party, who look set to take swathes of votes from the Tories at the General Election.

Ultimately, the only glimmer of good news for Sunak was that any challenge to his leadership from his backbenchers appears to have fizzled out, largely due to the fact that there is no obvious candidate that they can rally behind.      

That, though, is unlikely to save the PM from many a sleepless night between now and an election his party looks set to lose- and lose badly.

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