Conservatives have suffered a ‘tough night’ in some parts of the country in local elections, Boris Johnson has admitted.
But in his first public comments since seeing the flagship Tory councils of Wandsworth and Westminster fall to Labour for the first time in decades, the prime minister described the early counts as “a mixed set of results” for his party, with advances in areas where the Conservatives have not historically performed well.
In a clear bid to shore up his position among Tory MPs who fear he is hitting their electoral prospects, Mr Johnson said that the message from voters is that they want the government to focus on the “big issues that matter to them”, like the cost-of-living crisis.
But he again dismissed calls from Labour and Lib Dems to impose a windfall tax on energy companies to ease the burden of soaring bills on households.
The Tory leader has come under fire from his own side for his part in the loss of councillors, with Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell saying the “catastrophic” outcome in London should be a “wake-up call” for the party.
John Mallinson, the former Tory leader of Carlisle City Council said voters no longer have “the confidence that the prime minister can be relied upon to tell the truth”.
And Conservative MP David Simmonds, whose Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner seat borders Mr Johnson’s constituency, said the prime minister had “some difficult questions to answer”.
“Overwhelmingly, the message that I heard on the doorsteps was people were broadly positive about the government’s policies, but they are not happy about what they have been hearing about Partygate,” said Mr Simmonds.
Asked by broadcasters during a visit to a school in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency if he took responsibility for the results, Mr Johnson said: “Of course”.
He added: “It is mid-term. It’s certainly a mixed set of results.
“We had a tough night in some parts of the country but on the other hand in other parts of the country you are still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains in places that haven’t voted Conservative for a long time, if ever.”
Mr Johnson said that voters had sent a “message” to ministers to concentrate on the issues that matter to them.
“The big lesson from this is that this is a message from voters that what they want us to do above all – one, two and three – is focus on the big issues that matter to them,” he said.
“Taking the country forward, making sure we fix the post-Covid aftershock, get us all through the economic aftershocks in the way we got through Covid, fix the energy supply issues, that’s where the inflationary spike is coming, and keep going with our agenda of high-wage, high-skill jobs.
“That is what we are focused on.”
Mr Johnson said it was “completely right” that voters are focused on cost-of-living issues, in a week when the Bank of England hiked interest rates and warned of inflation topping 10 per cent by the end of the year.
He said he had talked to the heads of oil giants Shell and BP on Thursday about rising energy prices, but made clear he was not contemplating a windfall tax.
Boris Johnson said he spoke with the heads of Shell and BP on Thursday.
“I had the head of Shell in yesterday, and the head of BP, and I’ve talked to them both,” said the PM.
“Our message to them… is ‘Guys, you know, this is a moment when we need you, as a country, to invest massively in clean, green renewables, in the stuff that is going to make a difference to people’s energy prices’.
“What we don’t want to do is make the same mistakes as previous governments … failing to invest in our energy supply. So that’s the message that we’re giving to the big energy companies.
“And it’s frankly better for them to take that cash, put it into wind farms, put it into hydrogen, put it into stuff that will make a big difference to our ability to cope with the global energy price spike, and above all make sure that this country is protected in the future so that we have more long-term energy security.”