The Cabinet will today rally round Boris Johnson as the ‘right leader’ to steer Britain through the economic crisis and war in Ukraine after the local elections.
Ministers will hit the airwaves to argue he should stay on as Prime Minister – no matter how bad the poll results are.
As polling stations closed last night and vote counting began, the Conservatives were braced to lose hundreds of councillors around the country.
But they were hopeful that support might hold up in Red Wall areas.
The PM was said to be downbeat about the Tories chances of avoiding a drubbing, with the BBC reporting he yesterday told aides ahead of ballot papers being counted: ‘We are going to get our a*** kicked tonight.’
Allies of Mr Johnson are preparing a counter-offensive in case rebel Tories seek to use bruising results as an excuse to pounce.
They will try to soothe nerves among backbenchers by arguing the PM has got the ‘big calls right’ and is the best person to navigate the economy through ‘choppy water ahead’.
A Cabinet source said: ‘Boris delivered Brexit, got us through Covid, and is now right at the front of the global response to the invasion of Ukraine.
‘He is absolutely the right leader to take Britain forward.’
As polling stations closed and vote counting began, the Conservatives were braced to lose hundreds of councillors around the country
Ballot papers were being sorted at the Basildon Sporting Village in Essex, after polling stations shut at 10pm last night
Boris Johnson reportedly told aides ahead of ballot papers being counted: ‘We are going to get our a*** kicked tonight’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had sought to make the local elections campaign about the Partygate row after Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined by police
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was the first Cabinet minister out in support of the PM last night, as he dismissed suggestions that a dismal election result could pile pressure on Mr Johnson.
‘I absolutely think we can win the next general election and I do think Boris Johnson is the right person to lead us into that,’ he told Sky News.
‘He’s got those big decisions – through Covid and internationally with Ukraine and other areas – right since he’s been PM and he has my full support to continue to do that.’
But Mr Lewis also admitted it was set to be a ‘difficult set of elections’ for the Tories.
‘We came into these elections with Labour having a consistent lead in the polls,’ he added.
‘It’s the elections where the particular seats and councils up for election are the ones that tend to favour Labour.’
Millions of voters cast their ballots on Thursday as council seats in large swathes of the country were up for grabs.
In England more than 4,000 council seats were contested across 146 councils including in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs.
All 32 councils in Scotland and all 22 in Wales also held elections.
Polls suggested the Conservatives could do badly in the so-called Blue Wall, their traditional heartlands in southern England.
But most telling will be whether the party manages to prevent Labour making a significant comeback in the Red Wall areas, which switched from red to blue for the first time at the 2019 general election.
A failure by Sir Keir Starmer to reverse Tory advances in these areas could fuel questions about his leadership.
Pre-election forecasts pointed to the Tories losing control of flagship councils such as Wandsworth and Westminster in London, as well as Southampton and Thurrock.
A Tory loss of Wandsworth would prove a seismic result, as the London borough was famously Margaret Thatcher’s favourite and has been a flagship Conservative council for more than 40 years.
As votes began to be counted last night, Conservative insiders described it is a ‘definite loss’, along with the fellow London council of Barnet.
Shadow minister Tulip Siddiq highlighted Labour’s holding of Sunderland City Council as an early success for her party as the election results started to come in.
She claimed the Tories had ‘thrown the kitchen sink at it’ and highlighted how the PM had visited the area on Monday.
Sir had sought to make the local elections campaign about the Partygate row after Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined by police.
But this appeared to backfire in recent days as he struggled to answer questions about a lockdown gathering in Durham last year when he was pictured swigging beer.
Millions of voters cast their ballots as council seats in large swathes of the country were up for grabs
The PM is expected to delay a reshuffle of his Cabinet until the summer as it is believed he wants to be clear of the Partygate scandal before resetting his team
In England more than 4,000 council seats were contested across 146 councils including in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and all 32 London boroughs
The Prime Minister yesterday appeared to be in good spirits as he arrived to cast his vote in Westminster accompanied by his dog Dilyn. Sir Keir voted in Kentish Town, north London, while Sir Ed Davey voted in Surbiton, south-west London.
The Liberal Democrats leader said the Conservatives would be punished in the local elections for their handling of the cost of living crisis.
Sir Ed expressed confidence his party would ‘gain ground in areas across the Blue Wall where voters are fed up of being taken for granted by the Conservatives’.
Mr Johnson will attempt to get on the front foot next Tuesday as his Government’s legislative agenda is set out in the Queen’s Speech.
The PM is expected to delay a reshuffle of his Cabinet until the summer as it is believed he wants to be clear of the Partygate scandal before resetting his team.
But yesterday there was speculation he could call a snap general election before the end of this year over fears the economic picture could get much worse.