Greg Hands: what did Conservative chairman say on Laura Kuenssberg, will Tories lose seats at local elections?

Hands was forced to defend the government's recent performance in broadcast interviews

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Conservative Party chairman Greg Hands has claimed the Tories are on course to lose more than 1,000 seats in the local elections in May.

In an apparent attempt to manage expectations for England's local elections, the Cabinet minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “The independent expectations are that the Conservatives will lose more than 1,000 seats and that Labour need to make big gains.”

Stand-in host Sir Trevor Phillips asked Hands if he might lose his job if the results were bad. “Well let’s see Trevor,” was the reply, “but what I would say is that those are the independent predictions from the most credible academic sources.”

Prior to the 4 May polls, Hands was also forced to defend the government's performance in fulfilling Rishi Sunak’s five pledges in broadcast interviews.

He insisted that the Government is "still working very hard in delivering" the Prime Minister's priorities, which include cutting inflation in half, growing the economy, reducing debt, stopping boats that transport migrants across the English Channel, and cutting hospital wait times.

But he acknowledged that a wave of strikes "haven't helped" with the goal of reducing the record-high 7.2 million people NHS waiting lists. When questioned about how Sunak will address the NHS backlogs in the face of strikes, Hands responded that the Prime Minister is "personally involved" in the effort.

Tory party chairman Greg Hands appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg on 16 April (Photo: BBC)Tory party chairman Greg Hands appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg on 16 April (Photo: BBC)
Tory party chairman Greg Hands appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg on 16 April (Photo: BBC)

Sir Trevor questioned why anyone would support the Conservatives when people are suffering as a result of the public sector industrial action under their watch. Hands replied: “Because I think the Government is delivering on overall what the people want us to be delivering on. No one is pretending this job is in any way easy.”

Sir Trevor also confronted the minister about the Home Secretary’s record on tackling illegal immigration, pointing to figures suggesting 83% of the public believe the Government is handling immigration badly.

Suella Braverman is doing a “brilliant job,” Hands insisted. “I’ve already outlined, Trevor, how we’re getting to grips with the job, and how we are passing the legislation, how we are coming to these agreements with key allies, but sometimes these things will take time.

“And that is why, for example, we are starting returns to Albania, we are getting to grips with this and Suella is right on top of it.”

Hands, who had notes scrawled in blue ink on his hand told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “The strikes haven’t helped but nonetheless, there’s a real focus there, (Health Secretary) Steve Barclay, the Prime Minister personally involved here, in making sure that we do what we can to bring down those waiting lists.”

He insisted the Government is “definitely not giving up” on the Prime Minister’s pledge, arguing it has “budged” in the pay dispute with nursing unions.

Pressed on Sunak’s pledge on halving inflation, which has gone up since he made it, Hands replied that “nobody has said that it’s going to be easy to tame inflation” as he blamed higher energy prices driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

When it was put to him that the UK’s economy showed no growth in February, the Tory chairman said: “Well, in February it was not one of the better results but January grew by 0.3%. And we’ve had the best growth in the G7 in 2021 and 2022. Overall, under this Conservative Government we’ve got a record to be proud of on growth.”

Asked whether zero growth was something to be proud of, Hands conceded that “we would like to see much stronger growth”.