The council results are pretty much all in and the various party representatives have hit the airwaves to tell everyone what the results mean. It is, by definition, not possible for a politician to give an objective assessment of the results so I’ll give you my subjective assessment and hopefully through reading this and others you can form an accurate picture.
There are a couple of general points which will have had an impact, firstly the 2010 elections were held on the same day as the General Election which dramatically pushed up turnout, in a number of places turnout halved in 2014 compared to 2010. There is a huge amount of pseudo science around who benefits electorally from lower turnouts, I’m not convinced that there is a pattern but it does amplify changes and makes results more volatile.
The second point is that these elections were held on the same day as the European elections, elections which traditionally see UKIP doing well.
Unsurprisingly and most obviously is that UKIP did well. They showed that they could take seats in both the North and South and from Labour and the Lib Dems as well as us. Nigel Farage was photographed smiling and drinking a pint, he has every reason to feel pleased with himself. The fact that they picked up support from across the political spectrum reinforces the idea that they have become the “pox on all your houses” party. It also kills off the idea that they are just a potential appendix to the Conservatives and that a pact will translate their votes to us.
While concerns over immigration are not confined to any one party’s supporters I will be very interested to see the differences between the UKIP literature in southern England and in places like Rotherham. Have they inherited the Lib Dem’s old mantel of saying one thing in one place and something completely different in another?
In a number of places, most notably Croydon, the line that “a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour” held true. In a the swing wards of New Addington, Ashburton, and Waddon the UKIP vote almost certainly denied the Conservatives a win and in turn cost us the council.
The real challenge for UKIP now will be party discipline. Many of their newly elected councillors were disenchanted with or deselected from other parties and we have seen from last year’s intake how difficult they are to manage, UKIP may have imported a whole host of trouble.
It wasn’t a good day for us. We had a great result in these elections in 2006, dropped a bit in 2010 and have fallen further this year, but those who are trying to paint this as a catastrophic result are wide of the mark. We have lost a number of good councillors and the control of a number of councils but the true implications of that won’t present themselves until next week when we see what the behind the scenes negotiations in the NOC (No Overall Control) councils are concluded. Where the Conservatives are the largest party we may well see Conservative led coalitions at local as well as national level.
UKIP’s successes will trigger a debate within the party. Internal debate in political parties is like salt in food, it is essential in small amounts, in modest amounts it makes things more interesting and appealing but too much makes things unpalatable, sickening even. We do need to address the issues that UKIP’s voters are motivated by but we mustn’t spend too much time belly-button gazing and mustn’t descend to infighting.
They needed a big win and didn’t get it. What will concern them most is that they aren’t seen as the obvious home for voters who are disenchanted with the government parties. In a number of cases their candidates won not because of a shift towards them but because UKIP split the vote. They have failed to become the largest party in local government and are unable to dominate the headlines with good news.
As far as Conservatives are concerned Labour are in a sweet spot, they haven’t done well enough to set themselves up for a win in 2015 but not badly enough to kick Miliband out as leader.
What a shocker! Where we lost 14.5% of the councillors up for election the Lib Dems have lost 41.8%, for a party which relies so heavily on its elected base this is a very bad state of affairs. As a party they have had an identity crisis since entering coalition, these results will only make that worse. Nick Clegg will now have a hurculean task holding together the factions within his party, they were fractious before, now they are also scared.
To try and distil the moods of the respective parties I would guess that UKIP are elated, Conservatives are unhappy, Labour are confused and the Lib Dems are petrified.