Downing Street 'shelves plans' for summer general election

Conservative rebels have dropped plot to replace Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Teesside celebrating with Ben Houchen following his re-election as Tees Valley mayor. PA
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Number 10 has reportedly cancelled plans for a summer general election, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying the results of last week’s local polls suggest Britain is “heading for a hung parliament”.

Sources in Downing Street told The Telegraph that a general election could have taken place in June or July if MPs had launched a plot to replace Mr Sunak after the local polls, in which the ruling Conservatives lost 397 council seats.

But rebels are said to have now shelved plans to oust the Prime Minister, who is believed to be “80 or 90 per cent likely” to reject the idea of holding an election this summer.

October or November is now thought to be the most probable time frame.

It is believed the party hopes that an improving economy and flights taking off for Rwanda as part of its deportation plan will improve its prospects.

Speaking to The Times, Mr Sunak suggested the UK was on course for a hung Parliament but claimed voters would not want to see Keir Starmer “propped up in Downing Street” by the SNP or smaller parties.

Mr Sunak pointed to Sky News analysis of the local election results, which suggested Labour would be the largest party in a hung Parliament, although voters in national polls tend to behave differently, with fewer of them opting for smaller parties.

“These results suggest we are heading for a hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party,” Mr Sunak told The Times.

“Keir Starmer propped up in Downing Street by the SNP, Liberal Democrats and the Greens would be a disaster for Britain.

“The country doesn't need more political horse trading, but action. We are the only party that has a plan to deliver on the priorities of the people.”

His comments came after Oxford academics Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher said the local election results suggested that Labour were nine points ahead, rather than the more than 20 per cent that had been suggested by polling.

UK local elections - in pictures

Writing in The Times, they said: “Repeated at a general election on a uniform swing, these figures would lead to a hung parliament with Labour as comfortably the largest party but still short of a majority. A rather different picture to the Blackpool story.”

Former home secretary Suella Braverman has urged the Prime Minister to change course rightward to win back voters, offering further tax cuts and a cap on legal migration.

Tory grandee Sir John Hayes signalled the Prime Minister should reshuffle his Cabinet, with his close ally Ms Braverman as a voice at the table for what he called the “authentic Tory part of the Conservative Party”.

But Conservative moderates warned against Mr Sunak lurching to the right, with outgoing West Midlands mayor Andy Street claiming after his loss that “winning from that centre ground is what happens”.

Damian Green, chairman of the One Nation Group of Tory moderates, made a similar plea on the BBC's Westminster Hour.

“I would just observe the seats that we have lost in the past few days – we lost to parties to the left of us. So, I think suggesting that what we need to do is to move to the right is irrational in the face of the electorate,” he said.

Labour sought to dispel suggestions it would consider a coalition with the SNP after the next election.

Pat McFadden, the party's national campaign co-ordinator, said: “Our aim is to win a majority, to govern, to meet the mood for change, and we're not planning any alliances or pacts with anyone.”

The West Midlands result was a shock defeat for the Conservatives, with Ben Houchen the sole remaining Tory mayor, in Tees Valley.

Labour dominated other mayoral contests across England, including in London and Greater Manchester, and took Blackpool South from the Tories in a by-election.

With the results of all 107 councils in England that held elections on May 2 declared, Labour has won 1,158 seats, an increase of more than 232.

The Liberal Democrats beat the Tories into second place, winning 552 seats, up by about 100, a result hailed by party leader Ed Davey as “stunning”.

The Tories are just behind on 515 seats, down by about 400.

Updated: May 07, 2024, 11:06 AM