The Conservatives have lost almost 500 seats as a day of vote counting delivered a bruising set of local election results for the Prime Minister.
Ministers conceded it had been “tough” for the ruling party, particularly in the south of England where it lost ground to Labour in London and the Liberal Democrats in its “blue wall” heartlands, but warned against extrapolating the results on a national level.
As the losses trickled in throughout the day, Tory figures continued to publicly raise the prospect of Boris Johnson being replaced as party leader as one senior pollster suggested middle and upper class voters had distanced themselves from the PM after his fixed-penalty notice for breaking Covid laws.
Labour, which is facing its own difficulties after police announced a probe into whether leader Sir Keir Starmer broke lockdown rules last year, said the result had been “shattering” for the Conservatives.
A Labour spokeswoman said: “Boris Johnson was on the ballot paper and the British public has rejected him.
“The question every decent Conservative will be asking themselves is how much further are they willing to fall for a man who never fails to put his own interest above his councillors, his MPs, his party, and his country.”
Tory peer Lord Hayward said there had been a “revolt of the upper to middle class” against Mr Johnson’s leadership.
Speaking to TalkTV, the election analyst said it was the “university educated, managerial, Remain-oriented groups who have defected”, while long-term Conservative supporters had stayed at home during the local elections.
“Change of leader”
The former MP said the losses were likely to “add to the unease” over the allegations of coronavirus rule-breaching parties in Downing Street, with the potential of difficult by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton still to come.
“There are a series of hurdles that Boris Johnson has got to face, and there is no question he was an issue, and a big issue, on the doorsteps – in some parts of the country more than others,” Lord Hayward added.
Earlier on Friday, David Simmonds, the Tory MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner, said “a change of leader” could be one way of restoring public confidence in the Government after admitting the so-called partygate had been brought up by voters.