The Conservatives are in for a “difficult night” in Thursday’s local elections, a senior party figure has admitted.
Deputy chairwoman Helen Whately admitted the poll will be a chance to “kick the government”, amid predictions of a backlash over the delay to Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May requested a second delay to Britain’s departure earlier this month. The EU agreed and the UK is now due to leave on 31 October – seven months later than originally planned.
The MP for Faversham and mid Kent said she had seen “more anger than before” on the doorstep, but stressed it was frustration with politicians in general and not just her party.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a difficult night for us.”
Ms Whately said this was because the seats which are being contested were last up for grabs in 2015, which was a “high point” for the Tories.
When it was suggested that it was actually due to frustrations with Brexit, she said he had experienced that from voters on the doorstep, adding: “What I say to them is yes I realise that, I realise how frustrated you are with parliament, actually I’m frustrated too as an MP.
“But these are the local elections, so this is about who you are electing to be your local councillor, who you want to provide your local services.”
Ms Whately rejected suggestions Mrs May was a “problem” for the party.
She said: “Actually on the contrary I’d say more often what I’ve heard on the doorstep is people saying ‘wow it must be really tough for the prime minister’ and praising her for her resilience and her sticking at it and trying to get through, to bring MPs together and on Brexit.
“That’s what I hear far more often than criticism.”
As well as a potentially difficult night on Thursday, the Tories also look set to be on the end of a voter backlash in the European elections later next month.
The likes of the Liberal Democrats, Change UK, UKIP and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party have all launched their campaigns, with the Tories yet to do so.
Mr Farage’s newly-formed party is top of the polls, with the Conservatives trailing behind in a distant third.
Party chairman Brandon Lewis acknowledged there is “huge frustration” among grassroots members and activists.
When asked when the party would launch its campaign, Mr Lewis said the focus was on Thursday’s elections and getting a Brexit deal to avoid the UK having to hold the EU elections in the first place.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Our first priority is to not have to fight the European elections.
“I think we should be looking to do everything we can to respect that 2016 referendum.
“If and when we are at the point where we know we are definitely fighting those European elections then we will take some decisions about that.”
Mr Lewis played down reports that donors have been deserting the party, insisting that 2018 had been a “record peacetime fundraising year”.
But he added: “I don’t deny the frustration people in our party have over where we are on Brexit.
“I share that frustration, I want to get this done so we don’t fight those European elections.”
Some polls have suggested that some members – and even many councillors – will back Mr Farage’s party on 23 May.