Maldon has re-elected its Tory MP of more than three decades.

Sir John Whittingdale, who was first elected to represent Maldon in 1992, retained his seat while his Conservative colleagues across the county and throughout the country lost theirs.

In his victory speech, Sir John thanked local people for their support but described it as a “terrible night” for the Tories.

He said: “I’m immensely grateful the people of the Maldon constituency have asked me to continue.

“This has been the most difficult campaign I have fought, and it has been a terrible night for my party.

“I will need to go away with my colleagues to think very hard about the way forward."

Sir John was one of 131 Conservative MPs predicted to keep his position, in the final exit poll, which he felt meant “it was obviously not going to be a very good night for the Conservative Party.”

He described Rishi Sunak’s decision to call the election as a “tactical error”.

He said: “I never thought we’d hold an election now. Like most people, I expected it to be held in the autumn.

“I still don’t quite understand why the Prime Minister decided to call it. Given the way it’s panned out, I think it will be seen to have been a mistake.”

When asked whether a Tory leadership contest was likely to happen immediately after the election, Sir John said it would be “very hard” to say.

“There needs to be a proper debate,” he said.

“We need to involve the party and the country, and all that takes time.

“If the defeat is as bad as it’s feared, I’m sure Rishi Sunak will feel he’s not able to continue.”

Sir John admitted Reform UK had done “considerable damage” to the Conservatives’ vote share.

He said: “A lot of people are voting Reform, not because they support it, but they are traditional Conservative voters who want to express their anger. There’s no question the effect of Reform’s candidates is simply to reduce the Conservative vote, which appears to mean a lot more Labour MPs have been elected.”

“If the Conservative Party has a future, it’s important that those on the centre-right of politics come back together. If we are to win an election ever in the future, we need to persuade those who voted Reform this time to come back.”

Sir John was re-elected with 19,374 votes. Reform candidate Pamela Walford took second place, with 12,468 votes.