3 min read
Conservative MPs are fearing for their fates at the next general election after the party took a hammering at last week’s locals, losing more than 1,000 council seats.
James Sunderland, the MP for Bracknell in Berkshire, said it would be a “big mistake” for any of his colleagues to think they are safe with Labour well ahead in the polls.
“We’re all at risk,” he told PoliticsHome’s podcast, The Rundown.
But he does not believe it is too late for the Conservatives to turn their fortunes around if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is able to see through his five pledges for delivery in government, including reducing illegal migration and halving inflation.
Last week the Liberal Democrats had particular success winning councils where the local MP is a senior Tory, including two former Prime Ministers and the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove. Labour, meanwhile, won control of a host of local authorities represented in Westminster by Conservatives. One of these was Swindon, considered to be a bellwether council, which has been led by the Tories since 2004.
Last week North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson told Times Radio the local election results had been a “wake up call at all levels” for the party, which needed to offer people “tangible reasons to vote for an unprecedented fifth term in office”.
Sunderland told PoliticsHome he felt that was a “fair” assessment but worried he and his fellow MPs were “all at risk” of losing seats at the next general election, which is expected to take place before the end of 2024.
“If you go into this election thinking that your seat is safe, I think that’s a big mistake,” he added.
In his own Bracknell constituency, Tory councillors also suffered heavy losses, with Labour winning control of the authority for the first time in more than 25 years.
Conservatives previously held 37 of 42 seats on Bracknell Forest council, with Labour on just four seats. But the tables have now turned, with Labour adding 18 councillors to move to 22 seats, and the Tories dropping back to 10 after suffering 27 losses,
Sunderland, who is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Home Secretary Suella Braverman, said a “perfect storm” of local factors that led to the huge swing in Bracknell, but admitted “the national picture” also played a part.
“The Conservative vote didn’t turn up, and what we have to do now locally and nationally, is to get back to core conservative principles,” he said.
“We need to convince people again why they need to vote for the Conservatives, because I’m afraid the alternative right now, the thought of Labour government, fills me with a complete horror.”
Sunderland said that both locally and nationally the party needs to “get a lot better at telling people what it is they’re doing for them” before the next election.
“We’ve got a whole series of fantastic bills going through at the moment, and Rishi’s five pledges are absolutely right, and he’ll deliver on those,” he continued.
“I’m absolutely clear that following the macro events that we’ve seen, particularly the pandemic, the Ukraine invasion, and the effect of Brexit, if I’m being honest, I think that the offer will get better and better all the time.
“What we can’t afford to do is unseat that good work has been done.”
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