At the end of the day…

by Stephen Tall on May 5, 2006

I hate to resort to cliché to describe the Lib Dems’ local election results, but I’ve had 6 hours sleep over the past two days, so cliché it will have to be: it’s a bit of a curate’s egg.

(Of course, the joy of local election results is that they are so variegated, such a patch-work quilt, that party activists can read whatever they like into them. But this is my take…)

One the positive side, we have achieved (so far) our aim of winning more councils (1) and more councillors (25). We took Richmond-upon-Thames from the Tories, and gained St Albans and South Lakeland from no overall control.

The BBC is projecting the Lib Dem share of the vote to be 27% – which would match our second highest ever local election performance, and would repeat our 2004 feat of relegating Labour to third place in the popularity stakes.

But we lost control of two councils – Islington and Milton Keynes – and sadly failed to make as much progress as we had hoped in a number of Councils where we were hoping to take control.

There will be many lessons we can learn from all this, but I suspect it’s better done after a good night’s sleep.

It is clear the Tories have had a good night; but it’s no more than that. Their projected share of the national vote is 40%, which compares to the 38% they achieved in 2000 and 2004 – which were swiftly followed by resounding general election defeats. (And it trails well behind the 47% that Tony Blair won in his first election as Labour leader, in 1995.)

Their London results are impressive, but they have largely failed in their efforts to break out of their southern comfort zone. Most big cities remain Tory-free zones, despite huge efforts from Tory central office to score a couple of beacon results.

It’ll take a lot more than this for the Tories to be likely contenders even to become the single largest party – let alone get anything near approaching a workable Commons majority.

For Labour, the results are poor, very poor: but they had largely factored this in, and will take some crumbs of comfort that it has not been worse. Many of their northern ‘heartlands’ did keep the faith; and, indeed, there are some local results which have bucked the national trend, and shown swings to Labour.

PS: back in March, I wrote a guest column for – a website that helps keep political geeks away from normal people – ‘guesstimating’ notional national shares (on the basis of ICM polling) of Conservative 39%, Lib Dem 29%, Labour 25%. (I said at the time I thought Labour and Lib Dems would be a little closer together than that.) The BBC reckons it will be Con 40%, Lib Dem 27% and Lab 26%.

PPS: there’s a very good and fair summary of the results by London Tory activist Sean Fear over at the ConservativeHome website.