Boris Johnson said the tide towards leadership challenge was “unstoppable” after losing flagship seats in the election

Angry Tory MPs have told Boris Johnson the momentum behind a challenge to his leadership is now “unstoppable” after the Conservatives lost more than 340 councilors and a number of flagships.

The Prime Minister admitted the Tories had had a “rough night” in London and the South but insisted the party had made “rather remarkable gains” elsewhere in the country as Keir Starmer’s Labor broke through the so-called red wall not managed Heartland.

Tories were also buoyed by Durham Police’s announcement of an inquiry into an alleged breach of Covid regulations by Starmer, which they hope will offset future attacks on Mr Johnson over Partygate.

But that did little to calm nerves among MPs in traditionally rock-solid Tory seats in the prosperous capital and south-east, where the party saw Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet fall to Labor after decades under Tory control – and Woking was conquered by the Liberal Democrats.

Public anger at the Downing Street parties is now permanently “seasoned” in voters’ views of the Prime Minister, dampening the party’s performance across the country, Conservative MPs have warned.

The Tories lost overall control of John Major’s Home Council in Huntingdonshire and David Cameron’s West Oxfordshire and Wokingham in Buckinghamshire – long represented by John Redwood in the House of Commons – as Lib Dems’ big pushes into the so-called blue wall pushed the total number of councilors by more than 160 elevated.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey celebrated successes that have seen the Lib Dems also take over Hull from Labor and gain control of new unitary authorities in Westmorland and Somerset: ‘The tectonic plates of British politics are shifting. Now it’s up to the Conservative MPs to push the Prime Minister into the abyss.”

Mr Starmer said the results in London – as well as Crawley and Southampton, which they wrested from the Tories, and Kirklees, Rossendale and Worthing, where they gained overall control – represented a “massive turning point” for Labour, whose aggregate gains topped 200.

But election guru Sir John Curtice calculated that Sir Keir had fared worse outside the capital than his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn when the seats were last contested in 2018.

Prof Curtice said the BBC’s forecast of 35 per cent for Labour, 30 for Conservatives and 19 for Lib Dems from Thursday’s vote would give the Tories “no chance of staying in office” after the next general election, and this would prepare Mr. Starmer to enter No. 10, aided by Mr. Davey’s party.

A Conservative former minister told The Independent that the support in red walled areas cannot compensate for the decay of traditional forts.

“These are the Boris core areas but they are not the Tory core areas,” said the MP, who is considering a no-confidence letter for the prime minister. “There’s no point saving the soup if you lose the food.”

Another ex-minister said it was clear that the party had been preparing for a leadership contest in recent days and that the outcome of the local elections would make no difference to that process.

And another said that while Mr Starmer’s investigation could stave off a challenge to Johnson’s position for some time, it was now “probably a matter of when, not if”.

Veteran backbencher Sir Roger Gale, who became the first Tory to voice no confidence in Mr Johnson, suggested a challenge could come within just three weeks, saying The Independent: “There is an unstoppable tide. Something has to happen.”

While avoiding a meltdown in this week’s election, Mr Johnson faces “danger ahead” with the prospect of more police fines, Sue Gray’s report to Partygate and difficult by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, all against a backdrop of soaring inflation as high as 10 per cent and “catastrophic” hikes in energy bills, Sir Roger said.

With the Ukraine conflict now evolving into a potentially protracted war of attrition, Sir Roger said he no longer believed the crisis was compelling the Tories to hold back on a leadership change.

Some 54 Tory MPs must send a letter of no confidence to the 1922 Backbench Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady in a leadership challenge that will require a majority of MPs to succeed.

Prominent backbencher Tobias Ellwood has said it is now time for all party MPs to ask themselves whether they want Mr Johnson to remain in the face of evidence that Tories’ votes are “bleeding”.

The former defense secretary agreed it was a “big request” for Tory MPs to ditch a charismatic leader who had won them a large majority at Westminster.

But he told the BBC: “It is now a requirement because trust in the British people has been broken. And it is the duty of every Conservative MP to make that assessment and then act accordingly.”

Across the country, regional and national Tory leaders accused Mr Johnson of undermining local support for the party.

In Cumberland, where Labor won an overwhelming majority in a Tory-held council area in Westminster, former Carlisle City Council leader John Mallinson said voters no longer had “confidence that the Prime Minister can be trusted to tell the truth says”.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who saw his party slip from second to third place north of the border, said there was “absolutely no doubt” voters would be sending a message through Partygate.

Mr Ross did not reiterate his earlier call for Johnson, which he withdrew after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but warned: “The Prime Minister simply cannot ignore the message that has been sent by voters not just in Scotland but across the UK .”

Tory leader in Wales Andrew RT Davies accused the “national image” of undermining a Welsh Conservative brand which he stressed had received a warm welcome on its doorstep.

A senior Tory backbencher told it The Independent it is now “clearly very much in the interest of both Labor and the Liberal Democrats to keep Boris in place,” the MP said. “He’s clearly leading us down, not up.”

And another senior MP said anger and distrust are now “seasoned” into many voters’ views of Mr Johnson.

“Once you lose trust in someone, it’s very difficult to get it back,” said the former minister. “I think he will reach autumn. My guess is that the moment of greatest danger for him will be the convention because there will be a sense that the drop in the polls is permanent and we are running out of time to find a new leader before the next election.”

A Tory MP in a red-walled area said the results might not be “catastrophic” enough to see a spate of no-confidence letters next week but could persuade some supportive backbenchers to change their minds.

“Some MPs in the South will think, ‘Damn it, we can’t go on like this,'” the backbencher said. “It is now clear that some voters will never forget or forgive Partygate. I think Sue Gray’s report is still a moment when more MPs will be tipped over the edge and decide by letters.”

David Simmonds, whose seat in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner in north-west London borders Mr Johnson’s own constituency, said the Prime Minister had serious questions to answer.

And he warned that the police investigation into Sir Keir would not exonerate the Prime Minister because “two mistakes don’t make a right”.

Mr Simmonds would not say if he was considering a letter but did say so The Independent: “What people don’t forgive is when you see how we’re lagging in government.

“If we’re deadlocked by the leader’s actions regarding Partygate, then that needs to change.” Boris Johnson said the tide towards leadership challenge was “unstoppable” after losing flagship seats in the election

Bobby Allyn

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