The Writing’s on Hand’s Hand (and the Blue Wall?)

Tories could lose over 1,000 seats in local elections, party chair warns

Greg Hands was seen with notes made in blue ink on his hand in Sunday’s broadcast interviews as he defended the record of Rishi Sunak’s government ahead of the 4 May polls.

Adam Forrest

The Conservatives are on course to lose more than 1,000 seats in May’s local elections, the party’s under-pressure chairman has said.

Greg Hands referred several times to a forecast by elections experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of Tory seat losses of around 1,000 – with Labour set to make around 700 gains.

The cabinet chairman told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The independent expectations are that the Conservatives will lose more than 1,000 seats and that Labour need to make big gains.”

Accused by stand-in host Sir Trevor Phillips of trying to “massage expectations”, Mr Hands said: “That is what the expectation is out there, but I’ve been up and down the country and the Conservatives are fighting really hard.”

Asked by Sir Trevor whether he could lose his job if the results are dire, Mr Hands said: “Well let’s see Trevor, but what I would say is that those are the independent predictions from the most credible academic sources.”

Mr Hands was seen with notes made in blue ink on his hand in Sunday’s broadcast interviews as he defended the record of Rishi Sunak’s government ahead of the 4 May polls.

Labour mocked the Tory cabinet minister after he was spotted with notes penned on his palm, tweeting: “Hands hands hands notes to Labour research team.”

The prospect of prolonged NHS strikes could derail Mr Sunak’s hopes of limiting local election damage, warned the Liberal Democrats – who said it would be “the most salient issue on the doorstep for 2019 Tory voters”.

A Lib Dem source said Mr Hands’ admission of defeat at the 4 May elections shows that the Tories “have already thrown in the towel before a single vote has been cast”.

They added: “Rishi Sunak is facing a blue wall bloodbath as people who voted Conservative all their life say never again, and turn to the Liberal Democrats instead.”

Anti-Tory tactical voting could see heavy local election losses for Mr Sunak’s party, top polling gurus have said. Election experts told The Independent the electorate had become increasingly “sophisticated” in switching between Labour or the Lib Dems.

Mr Hands insisted the government is “still working very hard in delivering” the PM’s priorities – halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, stopping boats carrying migrants across the Channel, and reducing hospital waits.

But the Tory chair admitted that a wave of strikes “haven’t helped” with the vow to bring down NHS waiting lists, which stand at a record high of 7.2 million people.

Mr Sunak is “personally involved” in trying to tackle NHS backlogs, Mr Hands said when pressed on how he will achieve that in the face of strikes.

He insisted the government is “definitely not giving up” on the PM’s pledge – arguing it has “budged” in the pay dispute with nursing unions.

Suella Braverman is doing a “brilliant job,” Mr Hands insisted as he was confronted on the record on tackling illegal immigration – pointing to figures suggesting 83 per cent of the public believe the government is handling immigration badly.

“I’ve already outlined how we’re getting to grips with the job, and how we are passing the legislation, how we are coming to these agreements with key allies, but sometimes these things will take time,” Mr Hands told Sky News.

He added: “And that is why, for example, we are starting returns to Albania, we are getting to grips with this and Suella is right on top of it.”

Pressed on Mr Sunak’s pledge on halving inflation, which has gone up since he made it, Mr Hands replied that “nobody has said that it’s going to be easy to tame inflation” as he blamed higher energy prices driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Pressed on the UK’s economy showing no growth in February, the Tory chairman said: “Well, in February it was not one of the better results but January grew by 0.3 per cent … Overall, under this Conservative government we’ve got a record to be proud of on growth.”

Asked whether zero growth was something to be proud of, Mr Hands conceded that “we would like to see much stronger growth”.