Local elections live: what next for Rishi Sunak as Blackpool illuminates towering Tory challenge

Polling expert John Curtice is as reliable an authority on local elections as anyone – his view: this is the worst Tory performance in almost half a century.

And it could, likely will, get even worse as the day progresses. Here’s the view from a less reliable source, Lee Anderson, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party: “The public have (sic) made their mind up. Rishi Sunak could fly around the UK tonight, drop a million pound down every chimney and people still wouldn’t vote for them.”

Already the Tories have lost 122 councillors with only around a third of councils accounted for – so where did it all go wrong for Rishi Sunak, a man repeatedly described to this newspaper as talented, intelligent, sincere.

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Let me take you back two years: within just two hours of the Conservatives losing Wakefield to Labour as well as Tiverton and Honiton to the Liberal Democrats, the then Chairman of the party, Oliver Dowden, quit. In his letter of resignation Mr Dowden called upon someone to ‘take responsibility for the distress and disappointment of Conservative Party supporters’.

Now, Blackpool South has gone to Labour – with a 26 per cent swing – in the wake of yet another scandal for the Conservatives which Labour’s campaign chief Pat McFadden described as ‘not unusual these days' in a Sky News interview.

And so, as the dust settles on people’s votes, here’s a look in Rishi Sunak’s wing-mirrors – it is worth reminding ourselves of quite why he described his coming to power as ‘the worst hospital pass to any incoming Prime Minister in decades’: 

Boris Johnson, a timeline of his time as Prime Minister:

Prime Minister Rishi SunakPrime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

August 2019: Boris Johnson prorogues Parliament in order to force through his ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal. MPs condemn the prorogation as undemocratic. It is later deemed unlawful.

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November 2020: Evidence has since emerged of Boris Johnson surrounded by revellers at multiple social gatherings which, at the time were illegal and such events around the country were being forcefully broken up by police officers, owing to the danger posed to life in the event Covid-19 was transmitted person to person. Mr Johnson is now the first ever sitting Prime Minister to be found to have broken the law. An investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray stated: “The events investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.” That word again. Responsibility.

December 2020: When asked in Parliament about the illegal gatherings, Mr Johnson told the House: “All guidance was followed completely in Number 10.” He went on to add outside of the House: “all the evidence I can see is that people in that building have stayed within the rules.” They hadn’t, and he was there.

October 2021: Boris Johnson re-writes the parliamentary rules on standards in order to create a loophole for Owen Paterson to leap through in order to prevent himself being suspended from his role following an ‘egregious case of paid advocacy.’ Such was the horror at what Mr Johnson was trying to do in order to protect a colleague, whose behaviour had fallen short of expectations, that this was blocked and a screeching u-turn ensued.

December 2021: Boris Johnson’s Communications tsar Allegra Stratton quits, after footage emerged of her laughing and joking about the secret parties going on inside Downing Street, whilst tens of thousands were dying of Covid-19. She resigned in distress on her own doorstep in floods of tears on national television. Mr Johnson thanked her, without taking any responsibility for what had happened.

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June 2022: The Prime Minister’s Ethics Advisor, Lord Geidt quits. At the time he felt there was a legitimate question over whether or not Mr Johnson broke ministerial rules - a resigning offence - with his antics at, and subsequent explanations of, what has now been dubbed Partygate. Mr Johnson later contemplates scrapping the ethics gatekeeping role altogether. Just to double check, that’s standards and ethics he wants rid of.

June 2022: The Prime Minister is taken by surprise when Royalist crowds gathered to pay thanks to Her Majesty The Queen at a St Paul’s Platinum Jubilee service spontaneously erupts into a chorus of boos and jeers at the arrival of Mr Johnson, hand-in-hand with his wife Carrie.

June 2022: Tory MPs force a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. He lives to fight another day winning the vote 211 to 148 but, critically, 75 per cent of his own MPs not on his ministerial payroll said they had no confidence in his leadership.

June 24th, 2022: Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden quits in the wake of humiliating by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton. The Prime Minister is 4,000 miles away but in a memo sent back home he vows to carry on.

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Then came Liz Truss, a Prime Minister who broke an unenviable record as she become the shortest-lived PM in history. She also broke the economy – it has never recovered – with a slew of reckless policies that sought to bypass long-established checks and balances by expert institutions. She has since been on a round-the-world book tour – in one promo-show she held the book up to the camera, back-to-front and upside down. Go figure. 

So what next for Rishi Sunak and his Government? Well, Blackpool South was only up-for-grabs because Scott Benton the then MP was caught up in a lobbying scandal. Then there is Mark Menzies, himself caught up in scandal and disgrace following allegations of misusing party funds – something he says he ‘strongly disputes.’

Few people understand politics and power better than the distinguished Conservative peer Lord Barwell, formerly Theresa May’s chief of staff. He has previously said that if Government MPs do nothing in response to the crushing defeats at the ballot box then the Tory party would be ‘sleepwalking to defeat at the next election.”

He said that two years ago and whilst Rishi Sunak appears to have steadies the ship since the demise of the Boris Johnson era, local election results this far indicate that people care about responsibility. They care about the NHS, their squeezed pockets, the care about striking rail workers, doctors and nurses. They care about the chaos.

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Later today and into tomorrow we will learn of the fate of mayors up and down the country – will Labour continue with what Sir Keir Starmer described as their ‘seismic’ victory?

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