The Conservatives and Labour have both admitted they were dealt blows in local elections over the Brexit deadlock, with the Green Party and independents both gaining seats, while the Liberal Democrats gain 300 seats.
As of 8am on Friday, the Conservatives have lost around 430 seats, with some experts predicting this to rise to 800 by the end of the day. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have gained 300 seats, and the control of eight councils.
National politics are seen to be a major decision point for voters, with both parties admitting that a Brexit backlash is the cause of much of the swing.
Ex-minister Crispin Blunt said the Conservatives’ performance had been more “resilient” than many people had expected but there could be a “very different outcome” in European elections later this month unless “there was a clear strategy to get Brexit over the line”.
He said that the question of how long Theresa May would stay in power would “rumble on”, causing “significant instability” for the party.
Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said Brexit had been a “massive frustration” for voters and affected the number of Tory supporters coming out. He said, “we need to be more obviously competent as a government and we need to make progress – crucially on the central issue of Brexit.”
Labour’s shadow international development secretary Barry Gardiner said his party may have struggled because of its effort to please both Remain and Leave voters.
“There are two competing principles here and we are trying to hold them in tension. We are trying to say there is a way to reconcile them [but] if a party is seen to be speaking with two voices, it’s very difficult to communicate the policy.”
But Labour MP Ruth Smeeth said voters just don’t believe the party will deliver Brexit.
She said that spoiled ballot papers had messages like “we don’t trust you”, and support for other parties showed it was “anyone but the Tories or us”.
She added: “My frustration is that we seem to have abandoned [voters]. No matter how hard we are working locally, we need clear messaging from the top and playing around just isn’t working.”
Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse described the results for her party so far as “fantastic”. She said that the “Liberal Democrats are back”, after the “biggest gains since 2003”.
“Voters have given their verdict on Brexit to the two main parties,” she said. “The European elections are around the corner and after this exceptional night, we will do very well in the European elections because voters will come to the Liberal Democrats as a true Remain party.