Local elections: Tories lose 1,300 seats - and it is a bad night for Labour, too

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

The Conservatives and Labour have suffered a bruising day following the local elections as voters vented their anger at the two main parties over the continuing Brexit deadlock.

The Tories lost over 1,300 seats in what was a devastating night for Theresa May's party, surpassing even the worst projections.

But there will be few celebrations in the Labour camp as they failed to capitalise on Tory losses, with the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Independents picking up seats in England in local elections where national politics appeared to dominate all else.

Elections were fought in 248 English councils, six mayors and 11 councils in Northern Ireland.

  • How did it play out for the Tories?

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen on what turned voters in Conservative majority Chelmsford away from the Tories towards the Liberal Democrats

In short, very badly. The Conservatives had been braced for a tough night amid frustration at Mrs May’s failure to take Britain out of the EU on March 29 as planned, but even the worst estimates put their maximum estimated losses at 500.

By Friday evening, the number stood at twice that: with all 258 Councils declared, Mrs May's party had lost 1,300+ seats - one-in-four of her councillors - the worst result for any party since John Major's Conservatives in 1995.

The Conservatives lost Peterborough, Basildon, Southend, Worcester, St Albans, Welwyn Hatfield, Folkestone and Hythe, and Tandridge to no overall control while Winchester, Cotswold and Bath and North East Somerset - which is a council where ardent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg is MP - fell to the Liberal Democrats with North Kesteven going to independents.

The loss of Winchester is particularly damaging to the Conservatives, who lost control of the council by a majority of one, handing the Lib Dems control of the council for the first time since 2003.

The Conservatives did hold on in the bellwether council of Swindon, seen as a possible Labour gain, and took Walsall and North East Lincolnshire from no overall control.

Speaking in Aberdeen on Friday afternoon, Mrs May interpreted the results as a message from voters to both main parties to "get on and deliver Brexit".

She continued: "This is a difficult time for our party and these results are a symptom of that," she said.

"We have the privilege of governing our party at a momentous time and we have the responsibility to deliver something truly historic.

"What is momentous and historic is seldom simple and straightforward. But I think there was a simple message from yesterday's elections, to both us and the Labour party - just get on and deliver Brexit."

Mrs May could not even escape the results in a part of the country that was not holding elections as she was heckled during a speech to Conservative members in Llangollen, north Wales, calling on her to resign, an opinion echoed by others in her own party including senior Tory Brexiteer MP Sir Bernard Jenkin who said voters overwhelmingly believed that she had “lost the plot” and that the time had come for a change of leader.

His comments were echoed by former cabinet minister Priti Patel who said voters saw Mrs May as “part of the problem”.

“I just don’t think we can continue like this. We need change, we need a change of leadership. Perhaps the time has now come for that," she said.

So what are the talking points?

  • Conservatives have lost control of 28 councils so far, including Peterborough, Southend, Basildon, Worcester and St Albans.

  • Labour has lost control of four councils; Hartlepool, Bolsover and Wirral. Party makes gain from Conservatives in Trafford.

  • Labour also lost mayoralty in Middlesbrough to independent candidate.

  • Walsall and North East Lincolnshire won by Conservatives. Previously no overall control.

  • Liberal Democrats, who controlled two councils from last election, have won eight this time, including taking Cotswold and Bath and North East Somerset from the Tories.

  • Independents have gained control of two councils.

  • So far, Conservatives have lost more than 1,300 councillors.

  • Labour has lost 82 councillors.

  • Lib Dems have gained more 703 councillors.

  • Ukip has shed 145 councillors while Greens have gained 194.

  • Number of independent candidates soars by 662.

  • Malaise in both main parties sees number of councils falling under no overall control has risen by 12.

  • Were things better for Labour?

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener in Bolsover on why this Labour lost seats in their heartlands

Not really. As the opposition for nine years, Labour were expected to make gains, instead the party lost 82 seats.

The party lost several seats in key heartlands, including veteran left-wing MP Dennis Skinner's home patch of Bolsover that has been held by Labour since 1970.

Labour's all-things-to-all-people Brexit stance appears to have misfired with leading figures in the party in agreement with Mrs May that voters had taken out their Brexit frustrations on the impasse between the two main parties.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: "We'll see what final results of local elections look like by end of day as they are pretty mixed geographically up to now but so far message from local elections - 'Brexit - sort it'. Message received."

Bolsover is no longer Labour. Credit: ITV News

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who appeared in Manchester this morning to celebrate his party's win in Trafford, admitted the results proved Brexit proved a key factor in voter's minds.

His party has lost control in Bolsover, Hartlepool and Wirral and the mayoralty in Middlesbrough, where its vote was down 11% as independent Andy Preston was elected.

Asked the reasons why Labour had lost a number of councillors in its traditional heartlands, Mr Corbyn said: "A number of factors. Some of them local, some of them were people probably disagreeing with both parties on attitudes towards the European Union.

"Our purpose is to try to bring people together so that we do have an intelligent relationship with Europe in the future and that we don't have a terrible loss of jobs if we have a no-deal exit from the European Union."

The party also lost seats in Leave areas - Sunderland, which voted heavily for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, lost 10 Labour council seats.

Council leader Graham Miller said the party had paid the price for its stance on Brexit, with some MPs calling for a second referendum.

“The people of Sunderland have said ‘We are just not accepting that’. We have seen a massive protest vote on that issue tonight,” he said.

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said the party was hoping to at least regain the 200 seats it lost when these seats were last contested in 2015.

He acknowledged it had been a difficult to get across the party’s position on Brexit, which is to back a second referendum in certain circumstances, on the doorstep.

“If a party is seen to be speaking with two voices, it is very difficult to connect when the policy of the party is a complex policy,” he said.

  • Who were the big winners?

Independents, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats were the night's big victor's.

In contrast, the Liberal Democrats enjoyed a good night, gaining more than 700 seats.

The Greens and independent candidates have also benefited from the downfall of the other major parties, winning seats across the country, while Ukip lost more than 140 councillors.

While the two main parties stumbled, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable declared his party the "big winners" from the election.

Sir Vince also put Brexit at the heart of the results.

Sir Vince said: "Voters have sent a clear message that they no longer have confidence in the Conservatives, but they are also refusing to reward Labour while the party prevaricates on the big issue of the day: Brexit."

He added: "Today's Lib Dem surge is a springboard to the European elections, where we are clearly the strongest Remain force on the ballot paper. Every Liberal Democrat vote on May 23 will be a vote to stop Brexit."

Deputy leader Jo Swinson said: “Out and about across the country, the mood has been positive. If we can get into the triple figures of gains that would be a really, really good night,.

“That would be part of that Lib Dem fightback that is happening.”

Anna Soubry, a Conservative-turned-Change UK MP, whose party is not contesting the local elections but wants another Brexit referendum, said the results showed "change was coming".

She tweeted: "Strikes me that on the basis of the results in so far - the message to both main parties is 'plague on both your houses.'

"People are voting for change and change is indeed coming."

  • And what about the Independents?

It was a big night for those who went it alone, with 1,009 candidates who stood as an independent elected, 236 more than in 2015.

Many of them candidates represent so-called "hyperlocal" parties, which operate in only one council or ward.

They typically campaign on local issues only and have no connection to a national policy agenda, unlike the major parties.

Independent councillors have overall control of three councils, including Ashfield District Council and North Kesteven Council, and have become the second largest grouping on Nottingham City Council.

  • What does this mean for the Conservatives and Labour?

  • ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on the impact these results will have on the Brexit deadlock

Labour and the Tories have seen their share of the vote fall from more than 40% to less than 30%.

It's a "disaster" for both of them, ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said, adding the results were unlikely to break the Brexit impasse as Corbyn doing a deal with May at this stage will only benefit the Tories.

Polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University said the voters appeared to be punishing whichever of the main two parties was in control in their area.

“The Labour Party is losing where they are strong historically, the Conservatives are losing where they are strong historically. It’s a plague on all your houses,” he said.