New UK Conservative Party chairman predicts difficult local elections

British Minister without Portfolio and Tory party chairman Greg Hands walks outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain February 7, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - The new chairman of Britain's Conservative Party on Wednesday predicted a difficult set of local elections for the governing party in May but said it was building its campaign for a subsequent national election.

Greg Hands was appointed on Tuesday as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak re-arranged his ministerial team and created new departments to better align with his priorities ahead of a national parliamentary election expected in 2024.

But Hands, who replaced Nadhim Zahawi after he was sacked for breaking ministerial rules over his tax disclosures, said May's round of elections for hundreds of positions in local and regional authorities would not be easy.

"I know exactly what it is like in a time when the national party is not as popular as we would like it to be," Hands told Times Radio.

"My job is to deliver the best possible set of results ... It'll be a difficult set of elections but I'm still confident that we will do well."

Local elections are often seen as a rough gauge of how parties will fare at a national election.

The Conservatives trail the opposition Labour Party by around 20 percentage points, according to most opinion polls.

"I'm definitely up for it. I know Rishi Sunak is up for it," Hands told Sky in another interview. "I think the Conservative Party will have a really good story to tell at next year's general election, and we're definitely looking forward to it."

(Reporting by Muvija M, writing by William James; editing by William Schomberg)

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