Tories Drop Bid to Oust Sunak After He Avoids Election Wipeout

(Bloomberg) -- Rishi Sunak looks likely to lead the Conservative Party into the UK general election due this year after internal critics called off a planned effort to depose him after the local elections.

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Support among Tory lawmakers for a move to replace Sunak has not materialized after early results showed the party performing in line with low expectations, people involved in discussions about a coup told Bloomberg, asking to remain unnamed because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Rebels on the right of the party had threatened to launch a bid to replace the prime minister following Thursday’s votes for local authorities. But the Conservatives’ popular mayor in the Tees Valley held his seat, and the Labour opposition was denied victory in a crucial London suburb of Harlow in Essex.

Local elections marked a key flash-point for Sunak’s leadership and the last chance to make a change at the head of the party before the general election, which is expected in the autumn. The plotters had thought that if the Conservatives performed worse than expected, they could convince Members of Parliament to join them in writing no confidence letters in Sunak. Some 52 signatures are needed to trigger a party vote on his leadership.

However, Ben Houchen kept control of Tees Valley in northeast England, albeit on a reduced majority, and the Tory rebels admitted their plot to oust the premier was over. Andrea Jenkyns, one of those who’d called for a change of leader, said her colleagues were “unlikely” to move against the prime minister, telling the BBC, “We have to work with what we have got.”

Sunak still will have to own results that still suggest the Conservatives are headed for a significant defeat at the general election, one of the rebels said. The plot against Sunak started to fizzle over the past few days. Penny Mordaunt, a Cabinet minister who had been touted by rebels as the most likely replacement, indicated last weekend that she would not support a challenge against Sunak.

The prime minister acknowledged a “disappointing” result in the elections and said he’s “focused completely on the job at hand,” arguing the Labour opposition hasn’t done enough to ensure victory later in the year.

Another leadership change would have been the fifth in the last eight years, something many Tory members of Parliament thought would only negative views of the governing party in the eyes of voters.

To be sure, Friday’s initial results suggested the opposition Labour Party is gathering strength in its efforts to return to power. It won back a bellwether parliamentary seat from the Tories in northwest England and swathes of council seats.

The Tories are on course for “one of the worst — if not the worst — Conservative performances in local government for the last 40 years,” political scientist John Curtice said on Friday morning.

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