Sunak ally urges Tories to unite to win back voters after local election mauling

Cabinet minister Mel Stride claimed Conservative voters had stayed away on May 2 but could be persuaded to return at the general election.

Rishi Sunak must win back ‘disgruntled’ Conservative voters to give the party a hope of general election victory, a Cabinet minister indicated
Rishi Sunak must win back ‘disgruntled’ Conservative voters to give the party a hope of general election victory, a Cabinet minister indicated (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Rishi Sunak must win back “disgruntled” Conservative voters to give the party a hope of general election victory, a Cabinet minister indicated.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride insisted the Tories still have “all to play for” in the general election despite the drubbing inflicted in local and regional contests.

In a message to the Prime Minister’s critics on the Conservative benches, Mr Stride said the party had to be “united” to win back voters.

Mr Stride, a close ally of the Prime Minister, said a lot of Conservative voters “stayed away” from the ballot boxes at the May 2 contests because they were “disgruntled”.

But the general election later this year will be an “entirely difference contest”, he said.

Mr Stride acknowledged on Times Radio the results from the local elections had been “very painful” for the Conservatives.

But he added: “This is a volatile electorate, there are undoubtedly people that we need to win back to the Conservative cause.

“I suspect a large number of those people stayed away on election day last Thursday, and it’s down to us now to do absolutely everything we can in a united way as the party to bring back those people to the Conservative fold.”

MPs return to Parliament on Tuesday after the full extent of the electoral mauling in the local polls became clear over the bank holiday weekend.

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Mr Sunak dismissed demands for a change of political course on Monday, saying he was “determined more than ever to show the public that what we’re doing is making a difference” on issues including the economy and migration.

The Prime Minister will seek to get back on the front foot this week with a raft of announcements, including from Mr Stride on welfare reforms, and a hope that Friday figures covering the economy’s performance over the first quarter of this year will show the UK has exited its recession.

He has been given space to do so by the apparent fizzling out of a Tory rebellion against his leadership, talked up last week as a means of reversing the party’s electoral fortunes in anticipation of challenging local elections.

Mr Sunak insisted the result of the national vote was not “a foregone conclusion”, despite Labour’s gaping poll lead and the Conservatives losing nearly 500 council seats, the West Midlands mayoral race and the Blackpool South by-election.

(PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

He also doubled down on his prediction that Labour would fall short of enough seats to win power outright, a claim based on Sky News analysis of the local election results which suggested Sir Keir Starmer’s party would be the largest in a hung Parliament.

However, other polling experts have warned against reading too much into local election data as voters in national polls tend to to behave differently, with fewer opting for smaller parties.

Ben Page, chief executive of polling company Ipsos, said Mr Sunak’s projection was “for the birds”.

The Tory leader told broadcasters during a visit to a north London community centre on Monday that “the result of the next general election isn’t a foregone conclusion” and “the situation is closer than many people are saying or indeed some of the opinion polls are predicting”.

At a speech in London on Tuesday, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “If Rishi Sunak is so convinced that the election is so close, there’s one way to test that: call a general election and let the people decide.”

Ms Reeves acknowledged concerns within Labour about voters – including in areas with large Muslim populations – shifting away from the party over its position on the Israel-Hamas war.

She said: “I recognise that there are some people who didn’t vote for Labour last week because they did have concerns, including people in the Muslim community.

“I regret whenever someone decides that they can’t bring themselves to vote for the Labour Party and we will seek to rebuild the trust of those communities in the weeks and months ahead.”

Labour has resisted calls to back an immediate unconditional ceasefire and a ban on arms sales to Israel.

The Liberal Democrats plan to table a motion of no confidence in the Government in an effort to force a general election, although if any vote happened it is almost certain to fail given the Tory majority in the Commons.