The Conservatives face losing their Commons majority if local election results are replicated at a general election, according to a Sky News projection.
Analysis suggests that it would mean a hung parliament with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Tories remaining the largest party at Westminster but falling 48 seats short of an overall majority.
The projection is based on local election results from 1,700 wards and an analysis of change in vote share since 2018 across 87 local authorities.
It predicts that the Conservatives would have 278 seats, just seven more than Labour on 271.
The figures come after Mr Johnson admitted it was a “tough night” for his party after it lost some key local councils in London to Labour – though the opposition party had mixed results outside the capital.
Some local Conservative leaders were blaming the prime minister for shock losses as partygate and the cost of living dominated comments at the doorstep.
One southern Tory MP told Sky News: “It’s pretty grim. The PM is to blame, no one else, and there are now 19 Tory London MPs who will be baying for blood. The PM is killing our traditional vote.”
But Mr Johnson’s allies warned it was not time to change the leader as they insisted Labour gains fell short of what was needed for the party to secure a general election victory.
The PM said: “We’ve had a tough night in some parts of the country, but on the other hand, in other parts of the country, you’re still seeing Conservatives going forward and making quite remarkable gains.”
He said the local election results were “certainly mixed” after the Tories lost Wandsworth, Margaret Thatcher’s “favourite council”, Westminster and Barnet to Labour.
However, Labour gains in the rest of England were more modest.
The party was also buffeted by the announcement on Friday that leader Sir Keir Starmer will be investigated by police in Durham over “beergate” – the allegation that he broke lockdown rules while drinking with colleagues in April last year.
The Conservatives were dealt another blow in Somerset where the Lib Dems won a strong majority, taking back control of the council 13 years after losing it to the Tories.