Stunning Labour triumphs in London and West Midlands leave Sunak reeling

Stunning Labour triumphs in London and West Midlands leave Sunak reeling

Rishi Sunak was dealt a series of shattering blows last night as Labour won a knife-edge battle to seize the West Midlands mayoralty from the Conservatives and Sadiq Khan trounced his Tory rival in London to secure a third term.

The results, along with decisive victories for Labour’s Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool and Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire, left Labour in charge of most of England’s mayoralties.

The West Midlands upset where Andy Street lost to Richard Parker by 1,508 votes, announced after a dramatic series of recounts, followed a disastrous showing for the Tories in Thursday’s local council elections. They finished third behind the Liberal Democrats in the number of seats won, for the first time since 1996.

The danger for Sunak is that Conservative MPs will now see the PM and the national party as having destroyed a successful and popular mayor in the West Midlands who was credited by many with boosting the region’s economy. Street’s fate was sealed, despite him having done all he could to disassociate himself from the national Conservative party in his campaign for a third term.

Street told Sky News, “It was my campaign, I ran it my way” and said he is “proud of how we’ve built this brand of conservatism here”.

He said: “The thing everyone should take from Birmingham and the West Midlands tonight is this brand of moderative, inclusive, tolerant conservatism, that gets on and delivered, has come within an ace of beating the Labour party in what they considered to be their backyard – that’s the message from here tonight.”

Asked if he is worried that the party is drifting to the right and over-emphasising the threat from Reform UK while “ignoring other voters”, he said: “I would definitely not advise that drift.

“The psychology here is really very straightforward isn’t it: this is the youngest, most diverse, one of the most urban places in Britain and we’ve done, many would say, extremely well over a consistent period.

“The message is clear: winning from that centre ground is what happens.”

Conservative former home secretary Suella Braverman wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that it was time for Sunak to make bold offers to voters.

“Let me cut to the chase so no-one wastes time over-analysing this: we must not change our leader,” she said. “Changing leader now won’t work: the time to do so came and went. The hole to dig us out of is the PM’s, and it’s time for him to start shovelling.”

She said Tory voters wanted a reason to vote Conservative. “We need to be frank about this if we are to have any chance of fixing the problem,” she added, and urged Sunak to adopt “strong leadership, not managerialism” on tax, migration, the small boats and law and order.

Writing exclusively for the Observer, Labour leader Keir Starmer says that Sunak has no option but to call a general election immediately to avoid further damage being inflicted on the country by his paralysed government and deeply divided party.

“Tragically, Britain is now the victim of a zombie government, stuck in purgatory with a prime minister who won’t call an election he fears he’ll lose, but can’t give this country the change it deserves. Dragging this out will only cause more damage, more decline and more drift.”

Starmer said the results, in which Labour gained 185 council seats while the Tories lost 473, showed how all parts of the country were coming together behind a national project under Labour that would heal old divides, including those over Brexit and arguments around Scottish independence.

“My changed party is for anyone who loves this country, aspires for themselves and their family, and knows we can all do better than this.

“Winning the trust of people across past divides, such as leave and remain or yes and no in Scotland, is vital. Our country should demand a brighter future, and it’s only by coming together that we can secure it.”

Despite a late rush of wild speculation that he was in trouble in the race for the London mayoralty, Khan easily secured a third term, increasing his vote share to 44%, finishing 11% ahead of his Conservative rival, Susan Hall. She had focused her campaign on attacking Khan’s decision to expand the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez).

In his victory speech at City Hall, Khan reinforced Starmer’s call for a general election. “For the last eight years, London has been swimming against the tide of a Tory government,” he said. “And now, with a Labour party that’s ready to govern again under Keir Starmer, it’s time for Rishi Sunak to give the public a choice.

Sadiq Khan View image in fullscreen

“A general election will not just pave the path to a new direction for our country, but it will make bold action Londoners want to see a reality.”

After Ben Houchen provided a rare positive result for the Conservatives on Friday by retaining the Tees Valley mayoralty, the Tories were pinning their hopes on Street hanging on in the West Midlands to provide them with a positive narrative of success from the regions.

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But although Street had seemed to be edging ahead in a close contest until early yesterday afternoon, word then got out that Labour’s Parker had pulled off a sensational win but by such narrow margin that Street’s team had asked for recounts. The only full recount was in Coventry, while “bundle checks” were carried out across other parts of the West Midlands.

Parker said he would “make this region a roaring success again” and that his election shows “people are calling for Labour, and calling for change”.

He said: “This is the most important thing I will ever do, this week people here voted for the person and the party. They recognise that a Labour mayor can make a positive difference in this region.”

“You have put your trust in me and I will repay that trust – I will deliver for you and your family, I promise you that I will deliver jobs, we will fix our public transport system, we will build the homes you need, and we will give this region the fresh start it richly deserves.”

He said he would stand up “in the face of unprecedented Tory cuts”, and added: “I will also stand up for those people who didn’t vote for me.

“It also means so much to our country, it shows that people are calling for Labour, and calling for change. People are looking once again at our party and asking us to govern, up and down the country.”

Starmer said Labour’s victory in the West Midlands mayoral election was a “phenomenal result’’ which was “beyond our expectations’’.

Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator and Lewisham MP Ellie Reeves posted on X: “Congratulations RichParkerLab. An incredible result and significant victory.”

Rebel Tory MPs had been threatening to move against Sunak if the results were at the worse end of Tory expectation, but backed off after Houchen’s win on Friday. Now the threat to him may be reignited when MPs return to parliament on Tuesday.

Conservative MP Martin Vickers, a member of the executive of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, urged his colleagues to stop any talk of a coup and rally behind Sunak. “After 14 years, the chances are you are going to have a change of government, but you don’t give up on that basis. You fight against it, try to minimise losses and hope something turns up. Who knows what crises might occur during the next three or four months?”

In further ominous news, the latest Opinium poll for the Observer shows another fall in Sunak’s personal approval ratings, which plummeted by a further six points from a fortnight ago to -40. Starmer’s rating remained stable at -9. Overall, it showed that Labour has maintained a 16-point lead over the Conservatives.

With concerns growing over the threat from Reform UK – which almost pushed the Tories into third place in the Blackpool South byelection – Vickers has joined calls for Jeremy Hunt to announce further tax cuts in his autumn statement.

Another senior Tory on the right of the party said: “We just need more robust Tory policies, particularly on the visceral issues like crime and punishment, public order, immigration and asylum.”

However, writing in the Observer, Gavin Barwell, the former Tory MP and chief of staff to Theresa May in Downing Street, says many of those eyeing the leadership did not want to take over now “and be blamed for the inevitable defeat”. He also argues that there is “probably nothing Sunak or anyone else can do to avert defeat” following the reputational damage inflicted on the Tory brand by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Labour won three of the eight police and crime commissioner elections declared yesterday, gaining Cheshire from the Conservatives and holding West Midlands and Merseyside.