Rishi Sunak vows to fight on but admits hung parliament is likely

Rishi Sunak suggested the UK was on course for a hung parliament, ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan reports

Rishi Sunak has conceded the Conservatives may not win the next general election, as Tory rebels warned him to change his political course after defeats in the local polls.

The prime minister is braced for a continued fallout after the weekend’s local election results, which saw his party unexpectedly lose the West Midlands mayoral race to Labour.

Mr Sunak suggested the UK was on course for a hung Parliament but claimed voters would not want to see Sir Keir Starmer “propped up in Downing Street” by the SNP or smaller parties, speaking to The Times.

But the prime minister insisted the result of the next general election “isn’t a foregone conclusion” and that he is “absolutely determined to fight.”

He insisted his party is “united” on its values as he faced the cameras for the first time since the full release of results.

Sir Keir Starmer with party supporters Credit: Jacob King/PA

Mr Sunak pointed to Sky News analysis of the local election results which suggested Labour would be the largest party in a hung Parliament, though voters in national polls tend to to behave differently, with fewer of them opting for smaller parties.

“These results suggest we are heading for a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party,” Mr Sunak told The Times.

“Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.

“The country doesn’t need more political horse trading, but action. We are the only party that has a plan to deliver on the priorities of the people.”

One minister claimed that Tory voters who had stayed at home for last week's elections would back the current government at the general election.

Health minister Maria Caulfield repeated Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s assertion that the UK is on course for a hung Parliament, but pointed out that people don't vote the same way in local and nationwide elections.

“If you look at Blackpool South, for example, the vast majority of our voters that voted for us in 2019 stayed at home, they didn’t switch to Labour. They didn’t switch to Reform. They stayed at home and that shows that they haven’t really been tempted by other parties,” she told Sky News.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman meanwhile urged the prime minister to change course rightwards to win back voters.

But she said a change of leadership was not a “feasible prospect”, adding: “There is no superman or superwoman out there who can do it.”

Have you heard our new podcast Talking Politics? Every week Tom, Robert and Anushka dig into the biggest issues dominating the political agenda…

Among the measures Ms Braverman has urged the prime minister to adopt to win back voters are further tax cuts and a cap on legal migration.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey will seek to pressure the government to call a June general election by tabling a motion of no confidence when Parliament returns on Tuesday.

“These local elections showed the country has had enough of Rishi Sunak and his out-of-touch Conservative government," Mr Davey said in a statement.

But Conservative moderates warned against Mr Sunak lurching rightwards, with outgoing West Midlands mayor Andy Street claiming after his loss that “winning from that centre ground is what happens”.

Labour sought to dispel suggestions it would consider a coalition with the SNP after the next election.

Pat McFadden, the party’s national campaign co-ordinator, said: “Our aim is to win a majority, to govern, to meet the mood for change, and we’re not planning any alliances or pacts with anyone.”

The West Midlands result was a shock defeat for the Conservatives, with Lord Ben Houchen the sole remaining Tory mayor, in Tees Valley.

Labour dominated other mayoral contests across England, including in London and Greater Manchester, and took a Tory scalp by winning the Blackpool South by-election.

With the results of all 107 councils in England that held elections on May 2 declared, Labour has won 1,158 seats, an increase of more than 232.

The Liberal Democrats beat the Tories into second place, winning 552 seats, up nearly 100, a result hailed by party leader Sir Ed Davey as “stunning”.

The Tories are just behind on 515 seats, down nearly 400.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…