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The Conservatives suffered huge council losses in the last test before the general election

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  • Written by Sam Francis
  • Political correspondent, BBC News

The Conservatives have suffered one of their worst local election results in a decade in the last major test of public opinion before the general election.

The Conservative Party lost nearly half of the seats they contested, with only a handful of council and mayoral election results pending.

In contrast, Labor won major council and regional mayoralties and a decisive by-election victory in Blackpool South.

The Prime Minister described the results as “disappointing” but denied that Labor was on track to win the general election.

In a rare bright spot for the Conservative Party, Ben Houchen was elected for a third term in Tees Valley, with a much smaller majority.

Speaking at Teesside International Airport, Sunak said the general election results showed voters “will stick with us”.

Sunak said Labor “knows it has to win here in order to win the general election”, but said voters know that “the Conservatives are building a brighter future for Teesside and a brighter future for Britain”.

In total, the Conservatives lost 10 councils and more than 400 councilors in England.

Labor has emerged as the main beneficiary, gaining 169 new local councillors, and making progress in areas the party claims point to victory in the general election.

The party also won all three newly created regional mayors of the East Midlands, North East, York and North Yorkshire.

The newly created York and North Yorkshire mayoralty includes Sunak’s constituency of Richmond.

“We have run a positive campaign here and I am very proud to stand here as Labor leader to celebrate this historic victory,” he said.

He added, “It is a historic victory. These are places where we would not have normally achieved success for the Labor Party, but we were able to achieve this success and convince people to vote for us.”

The results of the local elections so far have produced a wealth of results for parties to contest, with nearly 2,600 seats in 107 councils, 37 police and crime commissioners, and 11 local mayors contested.

Results will continue to appear on Saturday and Sunday.

Research by Sir John Curtis for the BBC estimates that if the whole country held an election on Thursday and behaved in a similar way to those places, the result would be Labor on 34% and the Conservatives on 25%.

Meanwhile, national polls show Labor has a lead of up to 20 points over the Conservatives in general election intentions.

Both Labor and the Liberal Democrats are now calling on Mr Sunak to call a general election.

Video explanation, Watch: Local elections in England and Wales… in 60 seconds

Gaining nearly 100 new councillors, the Liberal Democrats said they had proven they could capitalize on the Conservatives’ difficulties.

The Green Party just fell short of its target of control of Bristol Council, but continued to make gains and won 66 new seats.

Meanwhile, the Reform Party received an average of 12% of the vote in its constituencies, and came in third place in the Blackpool by-election, 117 votes behind the Conservative Party.

Despite the poor results, there is no sign of an internal revolt against the Prime Minister’s leadership. There are only two MPs who have publicly called for a change of leader – and no new voices are joining that band in response to these findings.

Holding on to the Tees Valley mayoralty may have provided Mr Sunak with a lifeline.

But as leading elections expert Sir John pointed out, Lord Houchin’s success was “highly personal” and the results were unreliable indicators of the Conservatives’ general election prospects.

The results of the remaining votes could still be of pivotal importance for the two major parties.

Sir John said the Tories could be on track to lose 500 council members, making it “one of the party’s worst performances, if not the worst” in 40 years.

There are still five council elections to come, but all eyes will be on the remaining seven mayoral races due to be announced by the end of Saturday – they include London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Salford, West Yorkshire, West Midlands and South Yorkshire.

The results in London and Greater Manchester – currently held by Labour’s two most senior national figures, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham – will be crucial to gauging the party’s popular support.

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