They expect to lose more than a thousand of the council seats they hold on Thursday. The Tories are also at risk of running out of funds with furious donors abandoning the party because of Theresa May’s failure to take Britain out of the European Union on March 29. The party’s chief executive and treasurer Sir Mick Davis is also understood to be in “complete despair” because Remain and Leave donors are refusing to fund party operations and the Tories are out of money.
In a private warning it is understood he told one donor he had been “deserted by both Remain and Leave donors and therefore I am unable to run CCHQ and ensure we are capable of fighting and winning [elections]”.
The Sunday Express has also spoken to a major donor who has withheld a promised seven-figure pledge to party coffers because of the failure to deliver a clean Brexit by the government.
He was in talks with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party this weekend to fund their campaign and is considering backing their European election campaign.
It is understood that the businessman, who is a longstanding Tory donor, will continue to back the party if Mrs May is replaced by a Brexiteer.
He described Mrs May’s position as “untenable” and said that the party needs to bring in a prime minister and chancellor “who are completely committed to Brexit.”
In an article in today’s Sunday Express, party chairman Brandon Lewis has appealed to voters to remember that the elections this week are about local services and not Brexit.
He said: “I know many voters will feel as though as a country we have been voting in elections and referendums and debating politics endlessly over the past few years, but a vote for who you want to run your local council really does make a difference.
“If you want to keep things like weekly bin collections, roads being fixed, fly-tipping being stamped out and your council tax down, you need to go out and vote for them – and vote Conservative on Thursday.”
But a senior party member told the Sunday Express that “even before the problems with Brexit we calculated we will lose more than 1,000 [remaining] seats.”
The last time the council seats up for election on Thursday were fought was in 2015 not on the heels of the surprise Tory general election victory when the party was flying high. At the time the Conservatives won 5,521 seats, up 541 and almost 60 per cent of the seats available.
Some of the seats have disappeared because councils have since been merged into unitary authorities but party bosses expect around a quarter to go.
They believe the results might not be as bad as they could have been because the Brexit Party is not standing in the council seats but are braced for a possible wipe out in the European elections on May 23.
Last night a Survation poll put Labour and the Brexit Party neck-and-neck ahead of the European elections. Labour and the Brexit Party were both on 27 per cent, the Tories on 16 per cent, Lib Dems on 8 per cent, Ukip 7 per cent, the Greens and Change UK both on 4 per cent and the SNP on 3 per cent.
An Opinium poll also revealed the Brexit Party was gaining momentum at the expense of the Tories. The poll, which asked which party people would vote for in a general election, put the Tories on 26 per cent, Labour on 33 with the Brexit Party on 17 per cent.
Mr Lewis, though, insisted the Party was healthy in terms of its campaign teams and had candidates in a record 91 per cent of seats compared to just 77 per cent for Labour. He also pointed out that at the same stage in the election cycle the last Labour Government had lost 4,400 seats and held just 41 per cent of the seats they had in 1997 while the party’s share of the vote had fallen by 18 per cent.
However, MPs and Tory activists had reported many members were “going on strike”
And privately, many senior Tory figures believe their Party had escaped some of the punishment as voters were afraid of Jeremy Corbyn’s hard Left Labour Party.
Former cabinet minister Esther McVey said: “These results will be bad probably but not as bad as they might have been because of Corbyn and because the Brexit Party is not standing against us.”
Writing for the Sunday express today, Brexiteer North West Leicestershire Tory MP Andrew Bridgen warned that the party and democracy in the UK were facing an “existential threat.”
He said: “I am hearing of some constituents returning their polling cards to the elections officers or calling in to the council offices to say they will not be voting.”
The chairman of the activist group Conservative Grassroots Ed Costelloe, said: “Our councillors with small majorities are feeling very nervous. The trouble is when our members are knocking on doors people just want to talk about Brexit and the position of the Prime Minister and don’t want to focus on local issues.”
The electoral problems for the Tories were also highlighted in a poll in Scotland this weekend which found 9 per cent of Scottish Tory supporters abandoned the party over its failure to deliver Brexit.
The YouGov poll found the Brexit Party was the second best supported in Scotland for a European Parliament election with 13 per cent of the vote compared to the Tories’ 10 per cent.