A Conservative minister admits his party must rebuild “a lot of trust” after losing more than 1,000 councillors in last week’s local elections.
On a bruising day for Rishi Sunak’s administration, the Tories lost control of 48 councils across England as Labour became the largest party in local government for the first time since 2002. In the North East, blows for the Conservatives included losing control in Darlington – though the elections produced a more mixed set of results, with varying outcomes on Teesside and Labour already being dominant further north in Tyne and Wear.
Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the Tories were still “clearly behind” – but insisted that last week’s results would have been far worse had voters gone to the polls towards the end of last year. Speaking on a visit to the Greggs HQ in Longbenton on Wednesday, the roads minister said: “We saw a bit more of a mixed picture here in the North East, with Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar nowhere near as bad for the Conservatives.
“But overall, nationally, what we are seeing is that if these elections had been held back seven or eight months ago we would have been in a far worse situation when we were 30 points behind. When we had the elections last week, we were still clearly behind but it showed it as seven or eight points behind on that national level. I think that is a much better place to be in.
“It shows there is still a lot of progress to be made, it shows there is still a lot of trust to be rebuilt. But I am hoping the Prime Minister will stick to his five priorities, particularly around the economy.
“Those are the things really affecting my constituents at the moment. When it comes to inflation, particularly food inflation, that is a real concern. People want to see growth back in the economy as well. They also know we have to be sustainable as we go forwards and keep debt under control.
“As long as the Prime Minister can show he is properly delivering on that, and he has said he wants to halve inflation in a year, I think that would be a real testament to him and show people he has the right plan to take the country forward.”
Across England, the Conservatives lost 1,061 council seats last week – surpassing the 1,000-seat worst-case scenario prediction that had been suggested ahead of the elections. Labour said that the results represented a “clear rejection” of Mr Sunak in his first test at the ballot box since taking power.
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