Rishi Sunak vows to keep fighting, but Tory MPs are feeling gloomy

  • Written by Becky Morton and Nick Eardley
  • BBC Politics

Image source, Getty Images

Rishi Sunak has said the general election result is “not a foregone conclusion”, despite the Conservative Party’s “disappointing” set of local elections.

Speaking to broadcasters for the first time since the scale of the Tories’ losses became clear, the Prime Minister said he was “determined to fight”.

The party lost 470 council seats, as well as all but one mayoral contest.

The BBC spoke to a number of Conservative Party MPs who reflected growing pessimism within the party.

One senior party figure described the coming months as an “orderly retreat” and spoke of the Conservatives awaiting their fate.

But there appears to be no prospect of action against Rishi Sunak in the coming days.

Earlier, Mr Sunak He told the Times Local election results “suggest we are heading towards a hung parliament with Labor as the largest party” – and he appears to concede for the first time that his party may be on track to lose its majority.

He said: “Supporting Keir Starmer in Downing Street by the Scottish National Party, the Lib Dems and the Green Party would be a disaster for Britain.”

“The country does not need more political bargaining, but action.”

The Labor Party denied that it plans to establish alliances with other parties in order to form a government in the next general elections, expected in the second half of this year.

This forecast, rejected by some polling experts, used local election results to estimate a national estimate of vote share in the general election.

It is assumed that everyone will vote the same way in the general elections as they did in the local elections that took place last week. However, small parties and independent candidates tend to perform better in local elections.

It also does not take into account what could happen in Scotland, instead using the results of the 2019 general election, while Labor is expected to do much better there this year.

Objecting to his suggestion there could be a hung parliament, Mr Sunak said: “Independent analysis shows that while this has of course been a disappointing weekend for us, the outcome of the next general election is not a foregone conclusion, in fact it is a like that”. Closer than many people say, or closer than some opinion polls say or predict.

“That is why I am absolutely determined to fight incredibly hard for what I believe in and for the future country I want to build, and that is what I will do.”

One MP said talk of a hung parliament was “delusional” and said the Conservatives would be lucky to win more than 200 seats out of 650 in the general election.

Jeremy Corbyn won 202 seats in defeating Labor in 2019.

Others are more pessimistic and believe the number of Tory MPs could be similar to 1997, when John Major returned to just 165.

One former minister, who is themselves facing a challenge to retain their seat, said the issue for voters was that they must vote Conservative to stop Labour’s landslide.

The Prime Minister’s task in the next few days will be to try to rally his party and convince them all.

But as has been the case for some time, there is still an active debate about what the party should do next.

Former Prime Minister Liz Truss is among those who privately claim that a change of leader would be madness, but the Conservatives need to deliver “fundamental reform” – policy, not individuals.

There are numbers from the right party that are irritating, and are calling on conservatives to support exit from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Some want radical reform or further moves to cut taxes.

Some suggested creating more contentious issues to highlight differences with Labor on cultural issues.

Interior Minister Suella Braverman was among those urging the prime minister to change course and adopt more right-wing policies, although she said it would be “impossible” to change leaders with the general election looming.

But those in the centrist One Nation group agree with Andy Street, who lost the West Midlands mayoral election by just 1,508 votes, that the party should focus on “moderate, inclusive and tolerant conservatism”.

One representative said that talk of siding with the right was “ridiculous.”

“They are a minority.”

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