Let’s start with the easy bit: UKIP was definitely the biggest loser on the night. Through a combination of not defending some seats and being soundly beaten in others, the party ended up with an overall loss of over 120 councillors. Safe to say, that dog has had its day.
Then it gets harder. Labour promised us so much in the weeks leading up to the vote (encouraged, it has to be said, by some astounding polling on London’s voting intentions) but really failed to deliver. Simply racking up more votes in existing strongholds in the capital is not going to lead to the door of 10 Downing Street; and yet this growing number of Labour-only councils in London only serves to convince further its Corbyn-supporting citizens that anyone and everyone shares their political outlook. Addicted to social media, these Momentum cheerleaders predicted some stunning results in the run up to yesterday’s vote which inevitably failed to materialise.
Barnet, Wandsworth, Westminster were all slated to fall to an unstoppable red wave and yet all stubbornly refused to yield, with Barnet even swinging to the Conservatives. What put them off? While Barnet might be a specific case, with a particular demographic perhaps unsettled at the way in which Labour did – or did not – deal with allegations of anti-Semitism, it seems likely that elsewhere voters in London were put off by a) Labour’s stance on Brexit and b) the direction of travel of a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
Outside the capital, Plymouth and Trafford apart, the situation is worse. The party cannot break through outside the major cities of England.
For the Conservatives, simply maintaining the status quo could be seen as winning. It is some feat, in the week after the Windrush scandal broke, for them to achieve an equal share of the vote – 35% – with Labour. But they did just that. Councils in London were held – Kensington & Chelsea barely blinked – and the Conservatives went on to take Peterborough, Basildon and other UKIP-vacated towns. Theresa May was out in the Wandsworth sunshine on Friday afternoon. Their share of the vote would see them take back seats like Battersea, lost in June 2017, if there were a general election tomorrow.
If the Conservatives had any reason to be gloomy, then it would likely be their losses in south west London. Richmond upon Thames and Kingston upon Thames – two rather lovely, leafy and fervently Remain-voting boroughs – were drawn back to the Liberal Democrats. And not in any small way as the swings were sizeable in both cases: they picked up 24 seats in Richmond and almost as many in Kingston. That, as well as wins in Three Rivers and South Cambridgeshire should see them declared election night winners and put paid to the grumbles about Sir Vince Cable’s leadership – for now.
For those hoping for drama, this really was not the night for it. The parties remain largely deadlocked and that must suit the Tories just fine.