A bonus breakfast briefing analysing the election results in so far
Continuing live election coverage: Elections live
Interactive map: local elections results
The story outside London: Labour fails to make gains in string of marginal councils
The London story: Labour wins seats but fails to make significant breakthrough in London
If Labour wanted proof that it has “become a government-in-waiting” (© Jeremy Corbyn), it didn’t find it.
If the Conservatives were seeking proof that they have an increasingly diverse support base and are not tarnished forever more in the eyes of many remain supporters, they didn’t find it.
And if the Liberal Democrats sought to show that their wilderness years were clearly behind them, they didn’t get it – despite winning at least one of their main targets.
Rarely can a set of elections have taken place in which (at least at the time of writing) the biggest parties all increased their number of seats but none of them felt entirely satisfied.
This seeming mathematical impossibility was made possible by the almost complete collapse of Ukip. At the time of writing, Ukip had won a mere two seats nationwide: a loss of 92. It was how the Ukip spoils were divided up that was the key factor last night.
As shadow chancellor John McDonnell admitted in a BBC studio: “Two thirds of Ukip vote is going to the Tories, while one third is going to Labour, reflecting national opinion polls.”
However, it is Labour which has greatest cause to worry from last night’s results (we should, of course, give this LGC briefing a health warning because not all results are in). Mr McDonnell called it “a really mixed night” for his party. “Mixed” implies roughly equal measures of bad and good – but it was not so.
In truth, there weren’t that much more than a couple of trophies for Labour. At the time of writing Labour’s regaining of Plymouth City Council and its deprivation of Sean Anstee’s Conservative majority on Trafford MBC were the party’s biggest triumphs.
However, there were worrying signs of rejection of Jeremy Corbyn in middle England. Of the party’s hoped-for gains, Nuneaton & Bedworth BC, Amber Valley BC, Basildon BC, Swindon BC and Peterborough City Council were lost to the Conservatives; the Tories made gains on a hung Walsall MBC. Worse still, Derby City Council was unexpectedly lost with former Labour leader Ranjit Banwait losing his seat.
Labour had been hopeful of huge gains in London but additional seats won did not translate into councils changing colour. In its more outlandish moments of fancy the party had hoped for victory in Westminster City Council, Wandsworth LBC and Hillingdon LBC. There were seat gains in the former two – but in Hillingdon (which voted leave in the referendum) – the Tories gained ground.
While Labour required only one seat to gain control of Barnet LBC it failed to do so.
In a frank late-night BBC interview with the borough’s Labour group leader Barry Rawlings he gave a sense why even should Labour win there, it can hardly be considered a triumph for Jeremy Corbyn.
Asked about antisemitism within the party, Cllr Rawlings said: “To me it’s a pure morale stance – you stand up against hate crime.”
Asked about his party leadership’s action – or lack of action against it – he said: “It has moved in the right direction. It should have moved earlier. It will take some time to rebuild the trust.”
He indicated a dilemma of many voters he had encountered on the doorstep: “I’ve had some people in tears because they’ve always been in the Labour party… because they felt torn. Labour took too long to act.”
He invited Mr Corbyn “along to see what we’re doing in Barnet”.
While Labour won by far the highest number of seats in this predominantly urban set of elections, that was always to be expected. When the seats were last fought four years ago, Labour were far from a general election victory. The meagre total haul of an extra 15 seats over four years (well that was the figure at 5am) hardly makes a general election victory seem an imminent prospect.
The Conservatives will easily retain the chairmanship of the Local Government Association as a result of last night’s vote and have won a string of seats in middle England. But, tarnished by the Windrush scandal, battered by those who are against Brexit, the party gained little ground in more ethnically diverse, pro-remain areas.
In the words of psephologist Sir John Curtice on the BBC: “In wards which are ethnically diverse the Conservative vote is not going up by as much as those which are largely white.”
The Liberal Democrats won Richmond upon Thames LBC – and could yet gain Kingston upon Thames RBC on Friday. They got a notable second on Hull City Council and (at the time of writing) were up 41 seats, more than any other party.
However, as Laura Kuenssberg said on the BBC, at the Lib Dems’ current rate of progress it would take them 60 years to get back to their high-water mark.
So, overall, this set of elections is not a game-changer in local government. However, overall, it was Labour that would expect to be picking up the most gains at this stage of the political cycle. It didn’t do this. Far from being a government in waiting, Labour appear to be a permanent opposition.
Nick Golding, editor, LGC