Boris Johnson is facing an angry backlash from local Tories as the party saw key London strongholds fall to Labour while also suffering losses in councils across England.
Sir Keir Starmer hailed a “turning point” as his party strengthened its grip on the capital, taking the totemic Tory authority in Wandsworth, winning Westminster for the first time since its creation in 1964 and clinching victory in Barnet.
As scores of Tory councillors lost their seats against a backdrop of the row about lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and the cost-of-living crisis, local Conservative leaders pointed the finger of blame at the Prime Minister.
Not time for change
However, allies of Mr Johnson warned it was not the time for a change in the occupant of No 10, saying the Labour gains fell short of what was needed for the party to secure victory at a general election.
That did not deter a jubilant Sir Keir from proclaiming clear evidence of a Labour revival following its crushing defeat in the 2019 general election.
“This is a big turning point for us,” he told cheering supporters in Barnet. “We’ve sent a message to the Prime Minister: Britain deserves better.”
Among Tories there was anger and frustration that local councillors were paying the price for the failures of the national leadership.
John Mallinson, leader of Carlisle City Council, hit out after Labour took control of the new Cumberland authority which will replace it.
He told the BBC: “I think it is not just partygate, there is the integrity issue.
“Basically I just don’t feel people any longer have the confidence that the Prime Minister can be relied upon to tell the truth.”
Ravi Govindia, leader of the Wandsworth Tories, said: “Let’s not be coy about it, of course national issues were part of the dilemma people were facing.”
Conservative MP David Simmonds has said Mr Johnson has “difficult questions” to answer having promised to take responsibility for the election results.
“Overwhelmingly the message that I heard on the doorsteps was people were broadly positive about the Government’s policies but they are not happy about what they have been hearing about partygate,” he told the BBC.
“He (Mr Johnson) said ‘I will take full responsibility for these election results’ and I think he needs to confront that question now.”
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden acknowledged the party had suffered some “difficult results” but said it was not time for a change at the top.
“Labour are certainly not on the path to power and I believe that Boris Johnson does have the leadership skills, in particular the energy and the dynamism that we need during this difficult period of time,” he told Sky News.
A No 10 insider told the PA news agency they were “very sorry and sad” for the Conservatives who lost their seats but insisted that across the UK the party was doing “better than expected”.
“Keir Starmer is clearly not making the progress he needs to even dream of being in government and it’s hard to imagine any other Conservative leader doing better than this,” the source said.