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Rishi Sunak awaits knife edge result for top Tory mayor



Rishi Sunak’s premiership looked to be hanging by a thread as Labour has boasted about how the result in the race for West Midlands mayor would “wipe out” every Tory MP in the UK’s most crucial battleground region if replicated in a general election.

With a recount underway in the West Midlands, Tory mayor Andy Street is understood to have very narrowly lost on the first tally by around 3,000 votes in what would be a calamitous result for Mr Sunak and his party.

A Labour source admitted that their own early predictions that Mr Street had just held on to the key region had proven to be wrong. The source told The Independent: “Even if we ran them very close it’s an almost certain wipeout for the Tories at the general election.”

While victory by Tory Teesside mayor Ben Houchen on Friday had calmed calls by plotters for Mr Sunak to be replaced, the results on Saturday in London and the West Midlands have reopened the debate into whether he is the right man to lead the Conservatives into the election.

The Conservative’s Susan Hall gives her speech at City Hall (Jeff Moore/PA Wire)

The Independent was told that Sunak loyalists on the MPs’ Whatsapp group had “gone silent” as the results stacked up. Another source confirmed that Tory campaign chiefs were calling MPs to “calm nerves” amid concerns there could be an attempted coup.

As well as the mayoral elections, Tory MPs are shocked by the scale of council seats lost with 473 conceded and one more council yet to declare its results.

Worse still, Tory wins fell behind those of the Lib Dems. By Saturday afternoon, Labour had taken 1,140 seats, the Lib Dems 521 and the Tories 513.

One senior Tory told The Independent: “I don’t know how we can go on like this. We are heading for a defeat of historic proportions at the general election.”

Further questions were raised over Mr Sunak’s leadership when it emerged that he had not voted for the Tories’ defeated London mayor candidate Susan Hall.

Despite a belief that Mr Khan was beatable he easily trounced Susan Hall by 1,088,225 votes to 812,397 in another bruising result.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Teesside celebrating with Lord Ben Houchen following his re-election as Tees Valley Mayor (PA) (PA Wire)

The Independent asked Downing Street whether the Prime Minister had voted in London or the elections for the newly created mayor of York and North Yorkshire where his Richmond constituency is.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “He postal voted in Yorkshire.”

The answer resulted in an explosion of fury from Tory MPs and activists because electoral law allows for people to vote in more than one area in local elections if they are registered there. In general elections for Parliament, people are only allowed to vote in one area.

In a sign of growing fury in the parliamentary party, a Tory MP, who campaigned for Ms Hall in London, told The Independent: “If it transpires that our party leader, who could easily have voted for Susan Hall against Sadiq Khan just couldn’t be bothered, then Tory activists in London, who have been absolutely knocking themselves out for months on her behalf, will be rightfully absolutely furious.”

Meanwhile, former minister for London Paul Scully, who was controversially blocked from running as the Conservative London mayoral candidate, warned that the party under Sunak is “just constantly doing crisis management” and “had no vision for London or the country”.

Mr Scully opposed MPs replacing Mr Sunak as Tory leader and prime minister. However, he said he needed to “own the mistakes” which had allowed the much-derided Ms Hall to be the party’s candidate in London with no support or resources to fight a serious campaign.

Paul Scully was critical of the Tory London campaign (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA) (PA Media)

Describing the results as “abysmal”, he added: “I am not genuflecting in front of Rishi. It’s just you can’t keep doing this, constantly changing horses. At the end of the day, it’s not just about the leader. It’s about what we are as a party doing, and we’ve just gone around sort of jazz hands and lost our direction.”

He also warned that he feared the party is “about to go full circle” and return to the rightwing ideology of 1997 when he first got involved in politics.

The sense of missed opportunity by the Tories was underlined when the reelected London mayor was booed as he gave his victory speech after the result was declared.

Speaking at City Hall, Mr Khan said: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart, thank you London.”

The far-right Britain First candidate interrupted and chanted “Khan killed London”. The crowd was warned that security would remove people who disrupted the speeches.

The apparent voting snub from Mr Sunak follows claims that Ms Hall has received little party support or resources in her attempts to win back London for the Tories.

Howard Cox was preferred by some ministers as the Tory candidate for London but ended up with Reform (PA)

There have also been claims that she is “racist and islamophobic” which have been hotly denied by her campaign team.

However, Mr Sunak has made it clear he has little patience for Tories who border on being racist with the suspension of former deputy chairman, now Reform UK MP, Lee Anderson.

Questions over Mr Sunak’s leadership have come over his failure to intervene and install a strong candidate for London mayor and provide a serious vision.

The Independent recently revealed that cabinet ministers had pleaded with Mr Sunak to install motorist campaigner Howard Cox as London mayoral candidate, but he ended up joining Reform.

Mr Scully said: “The problem was that we have a weak London party which was easily pushed around.”

But the failure in the West Midlands is potentially an even bigger blow for the Tories.

Recent polling has seen them set to lose an estimated 29 seats out of the 44 they hold in the wider region. According to Labour the damage to the parliamentary seats for the Tories could be even worse if the mayoral vote is replicated.

A Savanta poll last night put Labour’s national lead at 18 points with a share of 44 per cent to 26 per cent for the Tories.

The vote share in the local elections had Labour at 34 per cent to the Tories’ 25 per cent. The 25 per cent vote share was the joint-lowest recorded for the party in local elections.

One Tory MP told The Independent they were “feeling glum” and had not decided what to do regarding Mr Sunak but described the West Midlands result as “a calamity”.

Even if Mr Street had won comfortably his election campaign had been built on having no Conservative branding or mention of Mr Sunak.

The one major success, Lord Houchen’s reelection in Tees Valley, had similarly seen him give no credit to Mr Sunak in his victory speech. He did not even don a blue rosette.

Ahead of the election on Thursday, Lord Houchen had told The Independent that voters had said they would support him but not the Conservative Party, splitting between staying at home and supporting the rightwing Reform UK, founded by Nigel Farage.

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