Tories reeling after local elections in the UK

Elections to local councils last week saw the Conservative party suffering huge losses. They won 515 seats, down by 397 form what they held before, while all the the parties gained seats. The Labour party was the biggest gainer, winning 1,158 seats, an increase of 232.

This does not augur well for the Conservatives in the next general elections which have to be held by January but are expected to be held a few months earlier, on a date of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s choosing. Public opinion polls have long indicated that they will be swept out of power after 14 continuous years of rule and these local elections cemented that view.

In general, a party that loses so badly might seek to replace its leader with someone new in the hope of turning its fortunes around. But it is not clear that this will happen to prime minister Rishi Sunal since there is not much time left before the general election and the party has recently had so much turmoil in its leadership that a fresh round of leadership fights is not something that they will relish.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was barely able to point to any big success for his Conservative Party, confirming that the electoral coalition that gave the party a big win in the 2019 general election has frayed, if not completely dissolved, in the wake of a series of political dramas and the cost of living crisis.

Though the Conservatives lost around half the 1,000 council seats they held, and suffered a huge defeat in the special parliamentary election in Blackpool South, a coastal resort town in the northwest of England, it looks as though Sunak will not face a revolt just yet from anxious lawmakers in his party.

Overall, the results show that Sunak hasn’t improved the Conservatives’ overall position following the damage caused by the actions of his predecessors, Boris Johnson, who was effectively ousted, and then replaced by Liz Truss, whose tenure lasted only 49 days after her economic policies rocked financial markets.

But while his short-term future seems secure, pressure is building on Sunak to do something to quickly turn their fortunes around but it is not clear that he has many options, other than the usual right wing one of cutting taxes.

If, as is widely expected, the party suffers a heavy loss in the general election, it will almost certainly lead to Sunak having to resign as party leader and one can be sure that aspirants for that position are already jockeying to replace him. But they are not likely to push for a change before the general election because then it would be them who would have that loss around their necks.

Who might those aspirants be? One of those is the extreme right wing Suella Braverman who was fired by Sunak from her cabinet position of Home Secretary. She has already come out attacking him for not being right wing enough.

Sunak’s allies were on Sunday insisting he wanted to stick to his current plan and that it was working, as plotters against his leadership accepted they did not have the support to challenge him.

But Braverman issued an extraordinary broadside against Sunak on a BBC news programme, saying she regretted voting for him to be leader but it was too late to get rid of him. She also said the party would be “lucky to have any MPs” if it continued on the same path.

Urging him to change course, she called for more conservative policies such as withdrawing from the European convention on human rights – a move that would be hugely unpopular with moderate Conservatives.

Asked about whether she wanted to see a change in leader, Braverman said: “I just don’t think that is a feasible prospect right now, we don’t have enough time and it is impossible for anyone new to come and change our fortunes to be honest. There is no superman or superwoman out there who can do it.”

Braverman is a controversial figure and thus may not be able to garner enough support. It seems unlikely that the hapless Liz Truss, who could not outlast a lettuce, will try to make a comeback. She has come out as a strong supporter of serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and it is not clear that that will endear her to the British public. Then there are the perennial contenders like Michael Gove.

One possibility is David Cameron. He became prime minister in 2010 and after leading the party to a comfortable general election victory in 2015, resigned after he lost the Brexit vote, which he had called for. Sunak brought him back to the cabinet in 2023 as Foreign Secretary. Given that he is a known quantity with a record of electoral success (other than the Brexit vote), the party might find him appealing. He is also a product of the private school-Oxford University pipeline that Conservatives seem to prefer. Cameron, Theresa May, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, and Sunak are all from that same pool. Unlike Boris Johnson, who led the Conservatives to a massive victory in 2019, Cameron is not controversial and polarizing and scandal prone.

UK residents among the readers of this blog who are closer to the action might wish to chime in with their views.


  1. Holms says

    The impression I have gained from my very distant vantage point is that they are very aware that they are about to lose heavily. They can’t say as much of course, but I wonder if they are keeping Sunak in as PM not so much because they want him to be leader, but because it won’t make a difference who they put in. And those within the party with the clout to make realistically gain leadership probably don’t want to be in the spotlight when the nigh inevitable happens.

  2. katybe says

    David Cameron’s not that uncontroversial -- a lot of people blame him for the whole Brexit thing. But unless the party decide to sacrifice one of their very few safe seats to him whenever the next election comes, he’s not actually eligible for party leader -- he isn’t a sitting MP any more, and only has the cabinet role he does because Sunak stuck him into the House of Lords as a peer in order to give him the job (once he ran out of loyal and halfway competant MPs to allocate jobs to, with the actually competant having been seen off over the last 8 years). As for who might be next, Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt seem to be the most-expected options for candidates, but each party has their own rules for choosing a party leader, and for the conservatives, unless there’s only one candidate, the final 2 go to a vote of party members. Which is c. 170k individuals most committed to the idea of being a conservative as part of their identity. They’re not even in step with what typical tory votes want. And given some polls suggest they could even drop to double digit numbers of seats, there are very few of the MPs who can feel completely confident they’ll still have their seat and be in a position to launch an immediate leadership challenge post-election.

  3. Dunc says

    Cameron is not controversial

    Lol. Cameron is hated by remainers as the architect of the Brexit referendum, and hated by Brexiters as the arch-remainer. He’s only “not controversial” in that everybody hates him.

    My money is on the rump of the Tory party taking yet another lurch to the right, heading firmly into Reform UK territory. Whilst both Braverman and Bandenoch seem to have aspirations in that direction, for some unfathomable reason* they’re not as popular with the membership as Mordaunt, even though they’re much more aligned on what passes for policy in Tory circles these days.

    You have to remember that the Tory party has completely lost its frigging mind over Brexit. They’re not about to start being sensible pragamtists any time soon. All of the sensible pragmatists got kicked out back in 2019. I would not be entirely surprised to see a Faragist / Reform UK take-over.

    *By which I mean, they still haven’t figured out that there’s no amount of pandering to racists that will stop them from being racist against you too.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    “a record of electoral success (other than the Brexit vote)”

    17 million people would call that success. Although quite a lot of those people are, I’m glad to say, dead now.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    A fun idea I have heard is, with increased tactical voting the Liberal Democrats could end up having more MPs than the tories, despite getting less votes.

    With LD as the second largest party in the parliamen their leader would become the formal leader of the opposition and get priviliges like being entitled to making three questions to the prime minister, while the tories would just be yet another party.

    After 4-6 years of this situation former tory voters would tend to regard LD as a more credible choice than the tories.
    Hence, a 2010-like resurgence of the tory party would become unlikely.
    Add a much-needed election reform getting rid of “first past the post” and you will have hammered a wooden stake into the tory vampire.

  6. katybe says

    Each party sets their own rules. At the moment, rules for the tory party say they have to be a sitting MP, however that’s not the case for the greens, who famously had a party leader who was never an MP, whilst having a single MP who wasn’t in charge of the party. If their numbers drop so precipitously that they can’t find anyone competant enough to get a majority of voting members to vote for them over ‘none of the above’, and the MPs can’t come to enough of an agreement to only put forward a single candidate who wins by default (see Theresa May) then those rules may be relaxed, but other than that, Cameron would only be eligible if he first stood for the party in the general election (and I haven’t heard anything that suggests he’s campaigning for a seat, but must admit I’ve not been particularly following their pre-election internal politics that much -- there’s been a lot more attention paid to who’s leaving the party or announced that they plan to stand down anyway), or I suppose if someone who’d won a safe seat immediately resigned and triggered a by-election to allow him to stand then, but that would be quite a risky plan given how annoyed the local electorate would then be!

  7. katybe says

    I think in theory the rules may allow for a prime minister to be someone who isn’t a party leader, but the circumstances where it could happen would potentially be so unlikely that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them set out somewhere.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    It seems unlikely that the hapless Liz Truss, who could not outlast a lettuce, will try to make a comeback.

    I think you’re crediting that moron with far more self-awareness than she has. I think it quite likely that she thinks she could AND SHOULD be given another chance. I don’t think it likely that her supporters could fill a phone box, but you said she wouldn’t try, with which I disagree.

    Cameron is not controversial

    You mean the bloke most responsible for the single most damaging thing to happen to the UK since 1945? Interesting statement.

    the private school-Oxford University pipeline that Conservatives seem to prefer. Cameron, Theresa May, Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, and Sunak are all from that same pool

    Neither Truss nor May went to private school, they both went to state schools, i.e. non-fee paying schools funded by the state that pretty much anyone can get into.

    The other three went to Public Schools, Eton for Cameron and Johnson, Winchester for Sunak. “Public Schools”, for those who don’t know, are very small subset of private schools, specifically Charterhouse, Eton College, Winchester College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School and Westminster. Their designation as such dates from 1868. There are thousands more private schools, but those seven are the original “Public Schools”.

    They did, all five of them, go to Oxford.

    Re; the leadership -- the last time the leadership changed hands the pack of idiots who put Truss in charge (i.e. the members of the Conservative party) weren’t consulted, since the MPs had realised belatedly how stupid they were and how little they could be trusted with picking a PM. Sunak was simply annointed. It will be interesting to see whether said pack of idiots will be consulted next time, or whether the parliamentary Conservative party (i.e. all the elected MPs) will simply get together and decide who’s leader between themselves, like last time. After the next election, they could conceivably hold the meeting in my car.

    The Tories have been treating the result of the next election as a foregone conclusion for a long time -- certainly since Sunak took over. Many, many senior MPs have announced they won’t be standing, the sort of move you only make when you’re pretty certain you’re going to lose and have instead lined up a cushy job with a company who you did favours for while you were in power.

    I stayed up to watch the election result in 1997, and it was great. I did the same in 2001, and it was an anticlimax, so I’ve never done it since. I will be up all night for the next one, for sure -- it’s going to be brilliant.

  9. xohjoh2n says

    In theory the rules allow Charley to choose whoever he likes, but it’s a very strong custom that they be a sitting Member of the Commons, the leader of the largest party in the Commons, and have a realistic chance of obtaining the confidence of the Commons and of the Electorate. Usually only one person fits that bill (after all, in the normal run of things the conditions are effective tautologies), but in cases where those conditions have already failed, well everything else is flexible in an attempt to avoid a premature general election.

    (Which as a last resort might fix things, always has for us, but other countries have found even that failed.)

    And it is further custom that when the customs for selecting a new PM have had to be stretched, the situation is regularised ASAP. (By renouncing peerages, standing at the next available by-election.)

    The real question is how likely they are to abide by custom rather than grab whatever they can and stuff their pockets, and will those surrounding them allow or constrain them. We’re probably ok, but just in case the Tower is still a functioning building…

  10. Tethys says

    My takeaway is that some of the most worthless politicians in both the UK and the US are going to become footnotes this fall?

    I cannot wrap my head around the concept of a House of Lords in 2024. Why? What?
    (Please don’t explain, it’s just as logical as having an electoral college)

  11. xohjoh2n says


    A lot of people seem to have a lot of ideas about changing it to make things “more democratic”.

    They seem less clear on how any proposals would make things “better”.

    Remember that pretty much 100% of our current dysfunction arises from the Commons, not the Lords.

  12. Tethys says

    Hereditary Monarchy being abolished would be a good first move.
    Perhaps follow that by renaming the houses of Parliament something more egalitarian than Commons and Lords?

    We do live in such interesting times.

  13. xohjoh2n says


    No, it would be a terrible *first* move. First you fix the actual politics of the situation. *Then* you can come back for the aesthetics if you want. Do it the other way round and your just playing into the hands of those looking for a distraction and cementing their control over the institutes of state for generations.

    King: not actually causing us many problems right now.
    Lords: not actually causing us many problems right now.
    The death grip of public school dimwits and the vicious right-wing press over our legislature and executive: big problems.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Reports have it that Boris, among others, was reeling long before the latest elections.

  15. Rob Grigjanis says

    xohjoh2n @14: Well said. It’s struck me since I was a kid that the monarchy was well past its sell-buy date, but that there were rather more pressing matters to be dealt with. The corporate stranglehold on politics being perhaps the main one. Getting rid of constitutional monarchies wouldn’t even begin to deal with that.

  16. Tethys says

    Yes, the robber barons/corporations are definitely the worst problem that requires action in the US too. They really don’t want their tax cuts to expire this year.

    Hopefully we can get some of those old fogeys sent out to pasture this election.

  17. KG says

    It won’t be Cameron, for the reasons set out by Dunc@4. I’m pretty sure it will be a figure from the hard right of the party, and my guess is Robert Jenrick (of whom I’m certain most Americans have never heard). He’s a corrupt, dishonest, hypocritical and racist, so has all the right qualifications, he’s clearly been lining up for a tilt at the leadership post-election, and he has the advantage over Braverman and Badenoch that he’s white and male.

  18. KG says

    A point worth noting about the local elections is that although the Tories did spectacularly badly, Labour did not do commensurately well, despite having the largest gain in raw seat numbers. They lost control of a couple of local councils due to pro-Palestinian independents in areas with significant Muslim populations, achieved a proportionately smaller increase in their total number of seats than the Liberal Democrats and particularly the Greens (who got 12% of the total vote), and even lost a couple of seats to George Galloways’ self-styled “Workers Party”. A somewhat dodgy statistical calculation suggested they would have got 35% of the vote if elections had been held all over the UK -- whereas their opinion poll ratings have been around 45%. Much if not all of this seems to have been down to Starmer’s stance on Gaza (where he has pretty much echoed the UK and US governments’ de factosupport for genocide accompanied by a bit of hand-wringing). None of this means Labour won’t get a fat majority in the general election (they almost certainly will), but it does demonstrate that there is little enthusiasm for Labour -- it’s just that the Tories have managed to make themselves rather less popular than rabies.

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