At the end of the day

by Stephen Tall on May 4, 2007

Fairs fair – I owe the Tories a semi-apology. They have clearly had a very good set of elections, in England at any rate.

The minimum benchmark for success they needed to clear was 750 net gains. Theyve chalked that up. Yesterday, I suggested 900 net gains would be more of a demonstration of their strength. They’re probably not going to quite manage that, but they’ll be within touching distance. No good pretending that’s not an impressive achievement.

However, it will be interesting to see the more detailed breakdown of results – to what extent have the Tories piled up gains in Parliamentary seats where they already have an MP? (A genuine question: I don’t know.)

In the three councils Prof John Curtice identified in yesterday’s Indy as bellweathers of a Tory comeback, their success was more muted: they gained Gravesham from Labour, winning five seats; but they made little progress in either Ipswich or Bury, both of which remain ‘hung’.

For the Lib Dems, too, we need to see if we have restricted our losses to those areas where we made or retained unexpected gains in 2003, and which hold little strategic importance for the party, at least in the short-term. Clearly there were seats where we plummeted: four councils alone – Waverley, Bournemouth, Torbay and North Somerset – account for almost one-third (80) of our net losses (240 at time of writing). I assume local factors were at play.

However, there are many areas in the south where the Lib Dems have repelled the Tory charge – and, significantly, they are in highly marginal areas which are vital for the Lib Dems, for example:

  • Vale of White Horse (Oxfordshire) – 4 net gains;
  • Winchester – 2 net gains;
  • Salisbury – 10 net gains;
  • Eastleigh – 2 net gains;
  • Eastbourne – 9 net gains;
  • Mendip – 8 net gains;
  • Taunton Deane – 11 net gains;
  • Tewkesbury – 6 net gains.

So the results are by no means one-way traffic. Nor should we forget that our projected 26% share of the vote has only been bettered on three occasions in the last 20 years (and in those years – 1994, 2003 and 2004 – only by 1%).

But political perception, at least as much as reality, depends on momentum. And that’s what is lacking from the Lib Dems’ overall national results, and what the Tories are able to take away from theirs.