Sir Keir Starmer said his party is on track to win the general election after a terrible night for the Tories and big swing to Labour, as local election results continue to come in.

With only a quarter of the results counted, it’s not possible to draw a definite conclusion. But all the signs point to a local council wipeout for Rishi Sunak’s party.

Labour has made significant gains since its 2019 performance. Medway is now back in Labour hands for the first time since 1998. Plymouth and Stoke-on-Trent have also turned red.

Joy also for the Lib Dems, who took control of Maidenhead, the seat of the former prime minister Theresa May, and Windsor.

As of 2pm, the Tories have lost 236 local council seats, Labour is up by 181, the Lib Dems are up by 91, and the Greens are up by 28.

Sir John Curtice, the election guru, says that while the Tories could end up losing over 1,000 seats by the end of the day, Labour’s share of the vote did not seem to be higher than it was 12 months ago (when Labour was on 35% in the local elections).

He said the results certainly suggested Labour would be the largest party after the next general election, but it was still “uncertain” whether the party was on course to have a majority government.

His general assessment was echoed by Professor Michael Thrasher, Sky News’ elections expert.

“The Conservatives have lost a third of their council seats so far – a hammering by any standard,” he said. “If that trend continues, the party is likely to post a final tally that rivals the debacle of 1995 that left them limping towards a massacre at the general election two years later.”

But Thrasher also believes Labour is not doing well enough to be on course to gain an overall majority at the next election.

“Gaining Medway for the first time, a council that Labour could not win in 1997, is a notable coup for the party and one which it will rightly publicise. It will also celebrate the rise in vote share in Rushmoor, where it even surpassed the 1995 figure. This is all evidence of Labour passing the test it’s been set.

“But there are other results, Hartlepool, Lincoln, Tamworth and elsewhere, where Labour’s progress falls short of a general election-winning performance. Even where it has done well, like Plymouth, the increase in vote share, though large, is not large enough for an overall majority at the next general election.

This last sentence might be read by Labour supporters with incredulity, he said, adding that the electoral arithmetic that lies behind the next parliamentary election is that the national swing from the Conservatives required for a Labour victory is greater than the party achieved in its 1997 landslide. “This is because Labour posted one of its worst-ever general election performances in December 2019, and its recovery from that must be spectacular.”

Labour has a mountain to climb, but the local election results suggest the party is heading in the right direction.

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