Sunak ‘determined to fight’ on in face of fallout from local elections losses

The Prime Minister could face more calls to change political course as Parliament returns following the Tories’ poor set of local results.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to ‘fight’ on
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to ‘fight’ on (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Rishi Sunak has said he is “absolutely determined to fight” in the run-up to the general election as he braces for a continued fallout from Conservative losses in the local elections.

MPs return to Parliament on Tuesday after the full extent of the Tories’ drubbing in the local polls became clear over the bank holiday weekend, with the Prime Minister likely to face further calls to change political course or to call a national vote.

He dismissed demands for a change 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 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.

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: “The independent analysis shows that whilst of course this was a disappointing weekend for us, that the result of the next general election isn’t a foregone conclusion, and indeed actually is closer than, or the situation is closer than many people are saying or indeed some of the opinion polls are predicting.

“And that’s why I’m absolutely determined to fight incredibly hard for what I believe and for the future country that I want to build, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Rishi Sunak meets volunteers preparing food packages during a visit to a north London community centre
Rishi Sunak meets volunteers preparing food packages during a visit to a north London community centre (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has urged the Prime Minister to move rightwards to win back voters, while Conservative moderates warned against Mr Sunak lurching away from the centre ground.

Asked whether he would be making changes, Mr Sunak said: “I’m determined more than ever to demonstrate to the country that we are making progress on the areas that matter to them and we are going to deliver for them.”

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey plans to table a motion of no confidence in the Government on Tuesday, in a bid to pressure Mr Sunak into calling a June general election.

However, even if other parties back such a vote, it is unlikely to pass given the Tories’ majority.

Sir Ed said: “These local elections showed the country has had enough of Rishi Sunak and his out-of-touch Conservative Government.

“The Conservatives were pushed into third place for the first time in a generation as Liberal Democrats swept the board in former true blue heartlands. Yet Sunak continues to desperately cling on to power, holed up in Downing Street until the bitter end.”