More guff is usually said in the wake of local election results than any other type of political event in the United Kingdom. Partially because they are complex and you can generally swing them in all sorts of different ways. This is happening today, despite the results being unusually clear.
Let’s start with the Tories. As of the time of writing, with 156 of 259 councils having declared results, the Conservative party has lost a net total of 705 seats and 15 councils. That’s pretty ugly going. However, these results do not come as any sort of shock – everyone knew going in the Tories were going to lose a lot of seats. Partly because of Brexit, partly because they’ve been in government for nine years, partly because of May. It’s bad, but not terminal for the Tories – yet, at least.
For Labour, however, the results are apocalyptically horrendous. You can see it in the way the party’s spokespeople have struggled today – the results are way below what they had considered a possible worst case scenario. At the time of writing they have lost a net 94 seats, on course for around 150 losses across the country, perhaps more. For the official opposition to be losing seats at a local election, particularly a set that sees the Tories not only in turmoil but losing seats like crazy themselves, this is really, really, really bad. Particularly as these are the sorts of areas you’d need to see some level of Labour surge if they were on course to win the next general election.
UKIP are toast. They’ve lost 71 seats and will lose more. In an election where many voters wanted an alternative that was clearly pro-Brexit, a lot of people spoiled their ballots instead. Says it all about UKIP in 2019, really.
Now to the winners of the day. The Lib Dems are on course to have their first big night in a very long time. They are net plus 430 seats at the moment, plus 8 councils (they only had four before yesterday in the areas in question). They look set for 500+, maybe even 600+ if it is good going from here. Whatever you want to say about these elections, that the turnout was low, this is a protest vote against the two big parties, it doesn’t matter – people have voted for the Lib Dem en masse in a set of elections for the first time in almost a decade. That is a really big deal.
Does it mean the Lib Dems are back? I would urge a lot of caution, which given the way the Lib Dems have acted since 2015, I worry won’t happen. This is a party that has a tendency to use evidence of a by election win in which all of the other parties dropped out of the race other than Monster Raving Loony, so that the Lib Dems won on an 84% swing, as proof that the next general election will produce a Liberal Democrat majority. How will they respond to actual, real success? I still think they need to come to terms with Change UK, and I hope this success will make that easier as opposed to more difficult. Either way, a very good night for the Lib Dems – it’s been a mini-generation since I could say that.
The Greens also deserve a huge round of applause. They’ve gained 96 seats so far and look set to more than double their number of seats. That this many people could turn out and vote Green should really worry the Labour Party, who threw everything at trying to stop this from happening and failed. It would only take a mini-Green surge on its own to really hurt Labour’s chances in a general election.
Finally, what does this mean for Brexit? I might anger Remainers by saying that while it is anecdotally positive, there are other factors to consider. One, the only really Brexity party running was UKIP, who are clearly considered past the pale, even amongst hardcore Leavers. If the Brexit Party had been running across the country, that would have given us a much better idea of what this all meant for Brexit.