An interesting night; but in many ways, one that leaves us in the same place as before.
Local elections are an imperfect indicator of potential general election success, but broadly, the two main parties have the same problem they had in 2017.
Labour have, by and large, been successful in the cities and the Tories in small towns. The former took control of Plymouth and denied the Tories overall control in Trafford. But they also lost control of Derby, while the Tories took control of places like Peterborough and Basildon.
Labour’s failure to win Westminster and Wandsworth is being called, depending on who you ask a vicious indictment of Momentum’s politics, a sign Labour has hit its ceiling in London, or an extremely unsurprising result given that the two seats were never that likely to turn red anyway.
This last interpretation is the most sensible, and the reason that others—in light of the number of Labour activist figures who have been Tweeting about “unseating” the Tories there—are calling this and other Labour results a failure of expectations management. Yet this is not quite true either.
For Momentum, the focus in the run-up to the council elections was not on expectations management at all. Posts about the unseat campaign weren’t aimed at the general public, nor indeed at political commentators, but at mobilising a young left-wing ground game. In this light, they were very successful.
Whether or not you think expectations management is valuable is, of course, another question. It’s always a good idea to get your activists out; but so is trying to ensure they’re not depressed by the results. The fact some activists are now Tweeting about the national party’s failure to manage expectations shows they expected Labour to cover the bigger picture.
For a masterclass in that, you only need look to the Tory campaign—helped, as Tim Montgomerie points out, by genuine failures on Windrush and cancer screening.
Given the expectations for the Tory campaign, the fact the party held on to the seats they did in London and other major cities, and deepened their hold on small towns, is being hailed as a triumph.
Others point out that they have performed far better than a party of government should be expected to at this point in the electoral cycle. Over at Business Insider, Adam Bienkov notes that for Corbyn to be looking at a majority in the next general, Labour should have performed far better in these midterms.
In electoral terms, the story is really that little has changed. If one extrapolated these results to the general—with all due caution and caveats—then you’d be looking at a hung parliament. There would be the possibility of a Labour-Liberal Democrat-SNP pact, at least based on the raw numbers (if the pro-Remain Lib Dems would actually get in to bed with the distinctly less pro-Remain Labour party is a different matter entirely).
But if this the new shape of British politics, we should get used to a more fractured electoral map, and a political set-up more reliant on coalitions and pacts; blunt tool of FPTP be damned.
Speaking of the Lib Dems: they’ve done rather well. On Twitter, my colleague Steve Bloomfield is frustrated that reporting of local elections so often focusses on the national picture rather than the local one.
Is it any wonder that so few people care about local government when media coverage is all about what the vote means for national politics?
— Steve Bloomfield (@BloomfieldSJ) 4 мая 2018 г.
The genius of the Lib Dem campaign is that it had both a coherent national topline—Remain—and a strong local appeal: specifically, that it would sort the bins out. The party has won seats in Hull, Richmond and, er, Sunderland and made some lovely gains pretty much across the board. Party activists are jubilant.
The collapse of Ukip was pretty much as expected. The UK is becoming “independent”; the voters who switched from Labour and the Tories have been re-absorbed in to the main parties. (Their views remaining, I would suspect, largely unchanged.)
Órfhlaith Begley has become the first female MP in West Tyrone. Sinn Féin won the by-election there, calling after Barry McElduff resigned over an allegedly sectarian social media post.
For all of the talk of “smears”, voters in Barnet noted Labour’s anti-semitism problem and cast their ballots accordingly. As Daniel Sugarman of the Jewish Chronicle notes, the result isn’t just down to Jewish voters, but non-Jews too. Former Labour councillor Adam Laglaben says that anti-semitism was raised as a concern on the doorstep. The Jewish Labour Movement say they will be holding an urgent meeting with General Secretary Jennie Formby to discuss what should be done.
If they only had to win outside the big cities, the Tories would be looking at a nice majority in the next election. If they only had to win in the big cities, Labour would smash it in 2022. This is a problem for both parties, of course, but also brings home a broader point about demographics, and what different parts of the British population value.