Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives suffered crushing defeats in UK local elections on Friday as voters in many parts of England turned against the Conservatives after a tumultuous year.

The prime minister’s party was on the ropes across the country, with Labour making inroads into the North and Midlands and the Lib Dems advancing in wealthy parts of the South.

Early results suggested the Conservatives could lose up to 1,000 council seats compared to their pre-election position, matching some of the party’s most pessimistic predictions.

But the overnight count only took place in about a quarter of the 8,000 seats up for grabs, and Sunak and his rivals will have to wait for a fuller picture to emerge on Friday afternoon.

Labor seized control of Medway council in Kent, wresting it from the Tories for the first time in 20 years. The party also took over Plymouth city council in south-west England, along with Stoke-on-Trent, part of the former “red wall” that fell to Boris Johnson’s Tories in the 2019 elections.

Labor said the party was winning the kind of seats it needed to bounce back in a general election expected next year. “These results show that we are on our way to a majority Labor government,” said Shabana Mahmood, Labor campaign manager.

But early results suggest party leader Sir Keir Starmer still has work to do to be confident of winning an outright majority in the next general election, with gains shared with Lib Dems and the Greens.

Just after 3pm, the Conservatives had lost control of 20 councils, including Brentwood in Essex, Tamworth in Staffordshire, Hertsmere in Hertfordshire, East Lindsey in Lincolnshire and North West Leicestershire.

Labor had won 207 seats compared to its position immediately before the local electionswhile the Liberal Democrats had won 108 and the Conservatives had lost 267.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the results had given him a “Cheshire cat” smile and claimed his party was making progress across the country.

He highlighted how the Lib Dems had taken control of Windsor and Maidenhead council, the area represented by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Sunak said voters had made it clear they wanted him to focus on their priorities – the economy, the NHS and immigration – but insisted the Conservatives had made progress in limited areas such as Peterborough.

Greg Hands, Tory Chairman, said: “We always said it would be a tough night for us, and it turned out to be the case. It has been a disappointing night for the party and the government.”

Polling expert Sir John Curtice wrote on the BBC website that the Conservatives were likely to reach the threshold of 1,000 lost seats, but added that the gains were being split more evenly than expected between Labor and Democrats. liberals.

“Labor will be disappointed that their vote appears to be merely on par with their performance in last year’s local elections, even though the Conservatives are still five points down on 12 months ago,” Curtice wrote.

Since the last round of local elections, the Tories have had three prime ministers – Johnson, Liz Truss and Sunak – and have presided over a period of political and economic chaos.

Local elections are likely to be the last major test of public opinion at the polls before the general election, scheduled for the summer or fall of 2024.

Elections for the constituencies contested on Thursday were last held in 2019, when May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor performed poorly.

Curtice has said that Labor needs a double-digit lead in vote share in the election to secure a parliamentary majority in the general election.

“On the results declared so far, we are confident that Labor will have an equivalent advantage in vote share of at least eight points, which would represent our best result since 1997,” Labor said.

Data and graphs by Oliver Hawkins, Ella Holloway and Martin Stabe

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