Starmer says time for Sunak to face nation as Tories hammered in by-election and council races

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has renewed his demand for Rishi Sunak to go to the polls after the prime minister suffered a by-election drubbing and bruising council losses across England.

The Opposition has also boasted of winning in the Tory leader's "backyard", notching up a victory in the contest for York and North Yorkshire mayor, which includes his Richmond constituency.

But while Mr Sunak said the the grim early results were "disappointing" for the Conservatives, he insisted he was "focused completely on the job at hand" and seized on the party holding the Tees Valley mayoralty.

Sky News elections analyst Professor Michael Thrasher has explained how the data point to Labour being the largest party after the general election - but falling short of a majority.

Follow live:
The results as they come in

Buoyed by council gains in key battleground areas like Hartlepool, Rushmoor in Hampshire, Redditch in the West Midlands and Thurrock in Essex, Sir Keir declared the "seismic win" for Labour in the Blackpool South by-election "a direct message to the prime minister".

Chris Webb took the Lancashire seat with the third-biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour at a by-election since the Second World War.

Sir Keir told Sky News: "There's no denying the mood of the country now is for change. And I think it's for the prime minister to allow the country to express that change now in a general election."

The Conservatives only narrowly avoided being pushed into third place by Reform UK in the Blackpool South by-election.

Tory bosses argue the poll took place in "particularly difficult" circumstances following the resignation of former Tory MP Scott Benton after a lobbying scandal.

Speaking at a military base in North Yorkshire, Mr Sunak said: "Obviously, it's disappointing to lose good, hard-working Conservative councillors and I'm grateful to them for all their service in local government, keeping council tax low and delivering services for local people."

He also stressed there were "lots of results to come".

One of those was the Tees Valley mayoral contest, which saw Tory incumbent Ben Houchen re-elected in the face of a concerted Labour challenge.

The Conservative peer held the role with a majority of 18,789 votes, albeit much reduced from 2021.

Mr Sunak was quick to hail the victory and send his congratulations.

He wrote in a social media post: "Tees Valley want us to stick with the plan that's working... Excited for Ben to keep delivering more jobs and opportunities for local people."

Speaking later at a Teesside victory rally, Mr Sunak warned Labour: "They know that they had to win here in order to win a general election.

"They assumed that Tees Valley would just stroll back to them, but it didn't.

"People knew that they couldn't be taken for granted.

"They knew that it was Ben and the Conservatives that delivered for them. And they stuck with you in this election. And I know that come the general election, they're going to stick with us, too, because they don't want to be taken for granted."

Read more:
The winners and losers
Charts tell story of Conservative collapse
Who is Labour's new MP in Blackpool South?

Tory high command will hope it is enough to calm rumblings among restive MPs, particularly if Conservative Andy Street can hold the West Midlands.

However, the strong showing by Reform at the expense of the Conservatives is likely to fuel unease.

Tory party chairman Richard Holden told Sky News: "There's no doubt votes for Reform will help Labour in a general election scenario."

The failure to win the new office of York and North Yorkshire mayor, which Labour took with a majority of almost 15,000, will also come as a blow to the Tories.

Sir Keir hailed that victory as a "very, very special moment" in an area he described as "the heart of Tory territory" - which is also home to Mr Sunak's own constituency of Richmond.

He added the win is "vindication" for the Labour Party and showed "people are fed up with a failed government".

Key results include:

  • Labour won Rushmoor in Hampshire - the home of the British Army - for the first time

  • The party also gained the council in general election bellwether Redditch

  • Labour took Hartlepool council, regaining ground after a Westminster by-election disaster there in 2021

  • Labour also won Thurrock, one of its top targets

  • The Tories clung on by a single seat in Harlow, Essex - a council targeted by Sir Keir on the eve of polling

  • Labour gained Adur in West Sussex from the Conservatives for the first time

  • Labour took control of Nuneaton & Bedworth - a key parliamentary indicator

  • Labour lost control in Oldham, which has a large Muslim population, amid anger over the party's stance on Gaza

  • Labour retained control of Rochdale where George Galloway won a by-election, but lost two seats to his Workers Party of Britain.

  • Labour gained police and crime commissioners from the Conservatives in Cumbria and Avon and Somerset

  • Both the Greens and Liberal Democrats gained council seats

Sir Keir acknowledged domestic tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict had hit support for the party in certain areas.

He said: "There are some places where that's a very strong factor and I understand that and respect that.

"Where we have lost votes, we will earn them back through hard work just as we have done on many other issues.

"But I don't think that can shut out the fact that this a very good set of results for the Labour Party."