Friday briefing: Labour wins Blackpool South and Tories suffer heavy local election losses

<span>Blackpool South’s winning Labour candidate Chris Webb kisses his wife Portia.</span><span>Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters</span>
Blackpool South’s winning Labour candidate Chris Webb kisses his wife Portia.Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

Good morning. Look, I’m not going to call it Super Thursday: there frankly aren’t enough results in yet to warrant that kind of description for local elections in England, and it feels a bit glamorous for a bunch of returning officers in half-empty sports halls in any case.

Even so, as well as their importance for local governance, the results now coming in are being closely watched as the last big test with voters ahead of the general election. It will not shock you to learn that so far, they do not point to Rishi Sunak staying in Downing Street. At 5am, the Tories had lost more than half of the seats they were defending - and with the caveat that it’s still very early, that would be the worst government result in decades if it persists. There’s also the now-traditional matter of a Conservative by-election candidate getting a thumping after their predecessor was forced out by scandal.

For the very latest as results land this morning, head to the live blog. Today’s newsletter, with the Guardian’s early bird political correspondent Kiran Stacey, runs you through what we know so far, and what’s still to come. Here are the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. UK-Israel relations | David Cameron personally recommended that the UK should continue to sell arms to Israel two days after three British aid workers were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The decision appears to have been made based on an assessment of Israel’s compliance with humanitarian law over a period that did not cover the deaths of the World Central Kitchen workers.

  2. Scotland | John Swinney is expected to be crowned Scotland’s next first minister within days, after his only rival for the SNP leadership ruled herself out. Kate Forbes, the former finance secretary who has the support of the party’s social conservatives, said she was persuaded to step aside because Swinney had promised he would “govern from the mainstream”.

  3. Campus protests | More than 2,000 people have now been arrested during pro-Palestinian protests across dozens of US college campuses. In the UK, the prime minister has backed a police crackdown on any disorder on campuses after Jewish students said pro-Palestinian encampments were creating a “hostile and toxic atmosphere”.

  4. UK news | A man has appeared in court charged with murdering Daniel Anjorin, 14, with a samurai sword. Marcus Arduini Monzo appeared at Westminster magistrates court on Thursday morning, charged with the murder of the teenager in Hainault, east London.

  5. Asylum seekers | Hundreds of protesters have blocked an attempt to collect asylum seekers from a London hotel and take them to the Bibby Stockholm barge, moored at Portland in Dorset. The coach sent for the asylum seekers was forced to leave Peckham seven hours after it arrived, without anyone on board.

In depth: ‘People are working out how to vote to get rid of the Tories’

The funniest thing to happen yesterday was Boris Johnson being turned away from a polling station because he forgot the photo ID that his own Elections Act mandated him to bring. The rest is a bit crunchier.

A few minutes before 7am, and with 35 of 107 councils declared, the Conservatives had lost 122 council seats, while Labour had gained 52. The Greens and Lib Dems had also made advances, with Green support looking like it’s continuing to grow. The Tories have lost three councils so far, while Labour have gained four and lost one to no overall control. You can see all the latest results here.

Sky News’ vote share estimate – a bit earlier in the night, and likely to still be changing - suggests that compared with 2021, the Tories have lost 13.5%, while Labour have gained 7.4%. The change against last year’s results (already very bad for Rishi Sunak) was much smaller, but still a swing from Tories to Labour. “The overall headline so far is that it looks consistent with heading for a big Labour majority,” Kiran said.


Blackpool South byelection | Another big swing towards Labour

Labour held Blackpool South from 1997 until Boris Johnson won it for the Conservatives in 2019. There wasn’t a lot of suspense about who would win this time: given the dire national backdrop and the fact that the byelection was forced by the resignation of Tory MP Scott Benton over a lobbying scandal, Labour were certain to take the seat. Even so, the scale of the defeat was pretty grim news for Sunak. On a turnout of 32% - normal for a byelection - their candidate Chris Webb (above) won with 10,825 votes, more than the Conservatives and Reform UK combined.

That’s a swing of 26% - the third biggest in Labour’s favour since the second world war, and the fifth swing of more than 20% since Keir Starmer became leader, more than there were under Tony Blair before 1997.

There was some interest in whether the Tories could hang on to second place against Reform - which they just about did, by 3,218 votes to 3,101. Avoiding that symbolic blow will be cold comfort. “We expected a Labour win, but the swing is massive,” Kiran said. “They’re turning out these big by-election wins pretty consistently now.” And while the Conservatives like to call these mid-term elections, the blunt reality is that they have very little time to turn things around.


Local elections | Grim reading for Sunak, problems for Labour with Muslim voters

“The top line so far is that this is a set of results which show Labour having recovered a huge amount in the places it lost in 2019,” Kiran said. Dr Will Jennings, a political scientist at Southampton university crunching the numbers for Sky News, pointed out that the Conservative vote share so far is falling the most in areas that voted Leave in the Brexit referendum.

Ben Walker of poll aggregator Britain Elects said that with more than 10% of results in, the early pattern was of a similar Conservative vote share to last year, but much worse losses in terms of seats. The anti-Conservative vote seems to be very efficient: election researcher Dylan Difford said that shortly before 4am, the number of seats lost seems to be about 30% worse for the Tories than you would expect on the basis of their overall vote share.

“We shouldn’t underestimate what tactical voting is going to do,” Kiran said. “The Lib Dems are very chipper this morning about what they see as good gains in the ‘blue wall’. People have become very good at working out which party to vote for to get rid of the Tories.”

Meanwhile, Labour made important gains, picking up councils in Leave-supporting areas like Hartlepool, Thurrock in Essex, and Rushmoor in Hampshire. But these were somewhat offset by losses in (mostly) safer boroughs.

One really interesting factor in Labour’s position: it looks like they’re losing seats in wards with high Muslim populations, perhaps because of Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza. Those losses have translated to gains for Green and independent candidates. Because those tend to be areas where Labour is strong, that has had a relatively limited impact on council control - but one ominous sign was the loss of Oldham to no overall control thanks to the election of seven new independent councillors.

“They’re going backwards in areas with big Muslim populations,” Kiran said. “I’ve been tracking this for a while now, and it’s something they are perhaps not aware enough of.” It also suggests that where George Galloway’s Workers’ Party has strong local candidates (er, Monty Panesar?), it might be able to hurt Labour’s chances of picking up seats in the general election.

“It’s important to say that if Labour gets the big national swing it’s currently on course for, it would still have a big majority,” Kiran said. “But people I talk to think there are as many as 12 seats they hope to win where they might not, because the loss of Muslim support will balance out the gains of Leave-supporting voters.”

Meanwhile, Reform does seem to be winning a meaningful number of votes, but remains some distance from the highs that Ukip reached before Brexit. Political analyst Sam Freedman said that their figures are “more consistent with them getting 7-8% in a general election than 15%. But that’s still enough to do serious damage to the Tories.”

Whatever’s going on under the bonnet, it’s important not to lose sight of the big point: these results suggest that if nothing changes, the Conservatives will lose the next election heavily, and Keir Starmer will be prime minister.


What we don’t know yet | Key mayoral races – and some careful expectation management

We’re only getting started, really – here’s a full timeline of what’s still to come.

It’ll largely be quiet – other than the drone of relentless spinning – for the next few hours, but at about 12.30pm we’ll get the result of the Tees Valley mayoral contest, where Conservative candidate Ben Houchen’s personal popularity appears likely to save him from the general Tory bloodbath.

About half the council results will arrive between noon and 6pm today. As well as their local significance, they will make it much easier to draw concrete conclusions about the state of the parties nationally, and Sky and the BBC will both produce projections of what they tell us about the general election in the afternoon.

We’ll also find out if Labour has held off the challenge of their former mayor and now independent candidate Jamie Driscoll in the North East. The two biggest mayoral races, in the West Midlands and London, aren’t due until Saturday. (Look out for any signs of whether Labour’s problems with Muslim voters held up in each.)

If Andy Street wins in the West Midlands and Houchen wins in Tees Valley, Rishi Sunak will try to present that as evidence of the Tory vote holding up – but these are races with strong local candidates who have distanced themselves from the Westminster party, so beware of over-interpretation. “The Tories have done a great job of expectation management,” Kiran said. “To turn an election where they’ll certainly lose several hundred coucillors into a relative success is quite the piece of political manoeuvring.”

Conversely, if the Conservatives do lose both, and considering their generally grim performance, a leadership challenge to Sunak will begin to look like a real possibility. “I don’t think it’s likely that the Tories lose both – but if it does, we’ll know Sunak is in a totally catastrophic position,” Kiran said. “And I suspect we’d know the date of the election by the end of the weekend.”

What else we’ve been reading

  • 25 years of disastrous mismanagement left Southend United in tatters, tumbling out of the league to the despair of fans. Tim Burrows’ long read is full of amazing details about the unwavering spirit of the club’s supporters and whether, after all this time, a revival could still be possible for the club. Nimo

  • You can keep your McCartneys and Colmans: no national treasure can touch snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan. Simon Hattenstone, who knows him well, has a lovely piece about a gesture of extraordinary sportsmanship this week that should cement his status in the pantheon with Dench and Attenborough. Archie

  • Brazil has announced an ambitious 2% tax on the world’s billionaires. Larry Elliott explains why, even if it does not happen, it has put the issues of wealth and inequality on the agenda. Nimo

  • I can’t wait to see Love Lies Bleeding, Kristen Stewart’s new bodybuilding noir. Peter Bradshaw gives it five stars and asks the right question: “Why aren’t we talking more, or in fact all the time, about what a great actress Stewart is?” Archie

  • There is no shortage of horror stories from the sets of reality TV shows, but Susunu! Denpa Shōnen could quite easily take the crown for the cruelest and darkest series of all time. Adrian Horton takes a look at the documentary that delves into how, in 1998, Japanese comedian Tomoaki Hamatsu was left in a Truman Show-style predicament for 15 months while millions watched and laughed. Nimo


Football | In the Premier League, headers in either half from Trevoh Chalobah and Nicolas Jackson gave Chelsea a 2-0 victory against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. Aston Villa will need a big turnaround after losing the first leg of their Uefa Conference League semi-final 4-2 at home to Olympiakos.

Cricket | Worcestershire have been left “heartbroken” and “devastated” following the death of Josh Baker, their promising left-arm spinner, at the age of 20. Announcing the news, a club statement paid tribute to Baker’s “warmth, kindness, and professionalism”.

Basketball | WNBA star Brittney Griner said she thought about killing herself during her first few weeks in a Russian jail after her 2022 arrest on drug-related charges. The 6ft 9in center spoke for the first time about her months-long detention during an ABC interview.

The front pages

“PM to allow oil and gas exploration at sites intended for offshore wind” reports the Guardian this Friday morning. “Migrant protests ‘won’t stop us doing what is right’” –that’s the Daily Express, while the Daily Telegraph has “PM to offer Ireland Rwanda deal”. Also on the topic of immigration, the Daily Mail asks “Whose side is Labour really on?” “Wrecking ball hits housing plans” says the Times. “Labour woos Team Trump as Starmer prepares for power” is the i’s top story. “‘Mystic’ Samurai suspect” the Metro reports after the Hainault sword murder accused appeared in court. “FA talks over cup crisis” – the replays saga continues in the Daily Mirror. “Gazprom plummets to worst loss in decades as European sales collapse” – happy news for Ukraine and its allies in the Financial Times.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

A Man in Full
This six-part adaptation by David E Kelley of Tom Wolfe’s satirical novel is largely about dicks. Metaphorical, mostly, but with the occasional real one popping up to cause trouble here and there. The biggest metaphorical dick is Charlie Croker (Jeff Daniels). He is a good ol’ boy, Atlanta born and raised, turned real-estate mogul who has enjoyed swinging his appendage all over the state for many years. Shortly after his lavish 60th birthday, however, he is summoned by the bank to find that they are calling in the nearly $1bn of loans they have made to him. The party, and the quail hunting, are over.
Lucy Mangan

Yunchan Lim: Chopin: Études Op 10 & Op 25 album
Lim’s first disc for Decca more than reinforces the great first impressions that the prodigious South Korean musician has made. These are thrilling performances of Chopin’s studies, the technique dazzlingly immaculate and the musical impulses propelling it often startlingly original. There are still moments when youthful impetuosity leads him to misjudge things or rush them just a bit too much, but those are few and far between, and it’s much better to enjoy the brilliance of Lim’s playing, whether in the breathtaking evenness of the A minor study Op 10 no 2, or in the fresh details he consistently reveals, especially in the left hand. Andrew Clements

Love Lies Bleeding
Available in UK and Irish cinemas from today
British film-maker Rose Glass lets rip with some pure roid-rage cinema in this uproarious, horribly violent and lethally smart noir thriller (starring Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian, above), sited in the Venn diagram overlap between bodybuilding, murder and sex. The bodycount climbs so alarmingly that the characters are in danger of running out of rugs to roll the corpses up in. Glass has assembled a great cast – but first among equals has to be Stewart as gym manager and twitchy nicotine addict Lou. Peter Bradshaw

Green Wing: Resuscitated

Audible, all episodes available now
Seventeen years after the anarchic and gloriously inappropriate medical show ended, it is revived in podcast form. The original cast, including Olivia Colman, Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan are all present. The medics have aged disgracefully, making the trip back to East Hampton hospital worthwhile – and Statham (Mark Heap) is still the greatest character, marking his territory when the new boss takes his parking space. Hannah Verdier

Today in Focus

Are we on the brink of a ceasefire deal for Gaza?

With the threat of famine and the invasion of Rafah looming over Gaza, the leaders of Israel and Hamas are discussing a ceasefire deal. Julian Borger reports

Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Cities across the world have been embracing green roofs, made up of specially selected plants designed to manage the extra weight of biomass. In Amsterdam, the city has gone one step further with blue-green versions that can capture rainwater, and which cover approximately over 45,000 sq metres of the city’s roofs.

This “sponge city” concept soaks up downpours that are getting heavier as the world warms, simultaneously reducing flooding and recharging the underlying layer of absorbent rock. The philosophy, explains Kasper Spaan, a policy developer for climate adaptation, is “not that on every roof, everything is possible, but that on every roof, something is possible”.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until Monday.