Theresa May 'could face leadership challenge' if Conservatives suffer council losses

Written by Kevin Schofield on 25 January 2018 in News

Senior Conservatives hint at leadership challenge if the party suffers a "meltdown" at the local elections in England

Theresa May - PA

Theresa May could face a leadership challenge within months if the Conservatives suffer a "meltdown" in the upcoming local council elections, senior MPs believe.

Speaking to Holyrood's sister site Politics Home, Tory insiders said they feared the party could suffer major losses when voters go to the polls across the country on 3 May.

All the seats in London's 32 borough councils are up for grabs, with experts predicting that the Conservatives could lose control of more than half of the authorities they currently hold.

Borough council elections will also take place in Labour-held Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, while a proportion of seats on dozens of other councils across England are also being voted on.

Overall, the Conservatives are defending 1,302 seats and control of 39 councils.

A former Cabinet minister said: "The next hurdle for the Prime Minister is the local elections in May, and they are likely to be very bad. We're probably going to lose every seat we've got in Birmingham, for example.

"If it's a complete meltdown, then I think there will be a leadership challenge. But it's like when you're driving and come to one of those yellow boxes - you don't move until you can see that you're going to come out the other side. So there needs to be an alternative candidate."

Another senior Conservative MP said: "If the London elections are really bad - if we lose Westminster and Wandsworth for example - then the Prime Minister is in trouble."

Tory sources believe Brexit Secretary David Davis is the most likely challenger to May if 3 May is a bad night for the party, although leadership bids by Boris Johnson or Amber Rudd cannot be ruled out.

May's future has come under more scrutiny since MPs returned to the Commons after Christmas, but she has insisted she is "in it for the long term".

Her Cabinet reshuffle at the start of the year only highlighted the weakness of her position, with Jeremy Hunt refusing to move from the Department of Health, and Justine Greening choosing to quit rather than become Work and Pensions Secretary.

May was also forced to reprimand Johnson for publicly demanding more cash for the NHS ahead of Tuesday's meeting of the Cabinet.

Former ministers have also broken ranks to attack her government and demand she does more to set out a clear vision for the country.

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