With two full days having passed since the local elections, the results are now in for all councils except Tower Hamlets.1 It’s a mixed bag of results across the country, but broadly speaking the two governing parties have lost seats to a combination of Labour and other parties (including UKIP) in a roughly 50:50 split. Let’s look at those results in more detail on a per-party basis.
On the face of it, things went reasonably well for Labour, with net gains of 6 councils and 338 councillors. This success was spread unevenly though, with Labour making substantial headway in some areas (e.g. they gained or held all but one seat in Manchester) but failing to make progress in others.
What Labour should be taking from these results is the message that voters, whilst losing patience with the austerity policies of the governing parties, are not entirely convinced by Miliband, despite some sensible proposals on the cost of living and popular issues such as renationalising the railways.2 Even Peter Hain - a Labour MP and former minister - is only prepared to go as far as predicting that Miliband is set to lead the biggest party (i.e. not necessarily win a majority) after the general election.3 With some hilarious gaffes over spending on groceries and an inability to do basic research on councillors before appearing on local radio, Labour may start to wonder if they backed the wrong Miliband in the leadership election.
Although the Conservatives lost a relatively small number of seats - fewer than the Liberal Democrats - the small margins of control in some areas resulted in a net loss of 11 councils. These results aren’t particularly bad for the main governing party in the year before a general election though, and, despite some concerns over UKIP, no one seems to be blaming Cameron for the losses.
The hardest hit by far, the Liberal Democrats took a hammering, with a net loss of 307 councillors and two councils. Whilst the party managed to hang on and even improve its standing in some areas, it was wiped out in others (e.g. Manchester, where it lost all of its councillors). It’s hard to know exactly where former Lib Dem voters went - did they switch to Labour or simply stay at home - but whatever the cause the party cannot continue losing support at this rate if it wishes to remain the third force in British politics.
The poor showing by the Lib Dems has once again raised question about Nick Clegg’s leadership. Whilst views of out and out dissent were few and far between, there was also a distinct lack of full blooded enthusiastic support from senior party figures. Tim Farron, the party’s president, said it would be ‘foolish of us as a party to turn in on ourselves’, but at no point did he defend Clegg by name.4 However, as I explained in 2012,5 I do not see any realistic alternatives to Clegg as leader, especially as a challenge requires two active antagonists - one to wield the knife and another to seize the crown. Regardless, any Lib Dem with leadership ambitions would do better at this point to let Clegg take the blame for any general election losses and use that as an opportunity to strike, rather than making a move now and then suffering losses less than a year into their leadership.
UKIP were delighted with their gains, surging forward to add 163 councillors with the prospect of coming first in the EU elections held on the same day.6 However, the mainstream media appears to have got a bit carried away when reporting UKIP’s success. First of all, UKIP did not take control of any councils, although they may have caused a change of control in some areas, and indeed it was impossible for them to do so in most areas given that only one third of seats were up for election. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that UKIP will hold onto and build upon these gains the BNP had a smattering of success a few years ago and went on to lose most of the seats when they were next contested.
Overall, the results were as you would expect for a local election: a battering for the governing parties, limited success for the opposition and a protest vote split amongst the smaller parties.
Check in tomorrow for commentary on the EU election results, which are expected to come in overnight.
All 45 seats were up for election, which, combined with mayoral and EU elections, has lengthened the counting process. ↩
Though if you listen to what Miliband has actually said, he doesn’t appear to have any set ideas beyond tinkering around the edges of the current system. ↩
Due to other EU countries voting later, these results will not be released until late on Sunday. ↩