A Blue Tide surges in; a Labour massacre looms
‘We’re closing the gap in the polls’ declared Labour’s John McDonnell on be BBC Local Election result show. Trying to defend Labour’s dire Local Election performance on Thursday, McDonnell has highlighted the also-dire nature of Labour’s incompetence and lack of grasp with the reality of the situation. Labour lost 382 council seats across Great Britain, with the Tories experiencing their best local election results in nine years and putting on 555 seats, including 82 in Wales and over 160 in Scotland.
When Theresa May stepped onto Downing Street on Wednesday, she did so to launch the Conservatives’ General Election campaign. Taking her aim at her Brexit negotiation opponents and yet again repeating her slogan line that her Conservative Party are the bastion of strong and stable leadership as the UK heads into a period of uncertainty as it leaves the European Union. Today’s local election results endorse that message strongly, and indeed Theresa May’s reputation as a strong but steady and stable leader, espcially in a time of strong uncertainty, needs to be examined further if the Labour Party and others are ever to recover from the impending dire local election results.
But looking at the results over the past day, it is hard to see anything other than a pattern of Tory blue tidal surges in areas of former UKIP and Labour support, and a Labour Party that is on its knees. Beginning in England, the only councils that Labour has managed to hold on are those of Doncaster and County Durham, though both see significantly reduced Labour representation. In the East Midlands, a key Tory target, the Labour Party saw its support plummet, with Derbyshire losing 19 Labour councils directly to the Conservatives, and that council changing hands from Labour majority to Conservative majority.
After gaining the marginal seat of Derby North in the 2015 General Election, these local results will likely boost ambitions of the Derbyshire North East and other seats in the East Midlands where there was a high UKIP vote last time. Lincolnshire County Council, for example, saw the Tories take overall control once again on the back of a total collapse in UKIP support. Lincolnshire is a key case study because despite the Labour vote also rising, the transfer of UKIP votes to the Conservatives has meant the Tories are the ones making the gains, surpassing all others. As John Curtice highlighted, despite a slight swing from general right of centre parties to general left of centre parties, the Conservatives were the ones on the verge of record success.
This is an electoral effect that has particularly effected the Liberal Democrats in Conservative-held areas. While the Lib Dems recorded their best local election results since the formation of the coalition in 2010, they lost seats in England, Scotland and Wales. In the English South West, the so-called ‘Blue Wall’ that delivered the Conservatives a majority in the General Election two years ago wasn’t just re-enforced, but extended. Cornwall County Council was a key Liberal Democrat target, yet it was the Conservatives that gained while the Lib Dems were relegated to second party status on the back, yet again, on UKIP votes heading to the Conservatives.
If a Lib Dem Fightback is on the cards for June 8th, then it is difficult to see if that really comes from their old heartlands in Cornwall, where the Leave and UKIP votes were both strong.
Corssing to Scotland, meanwhile, the Tories were also on the move there. With gains in the North East of Scotland the Conservatives ended the SNP’s overall majority on Dundee Council, while they became the second party on Edinburgh Council and extend their prospects of taking seats in the Borders, in Edinburgh and in the North East of the country. Gaining over 160 seats, the Tory revival in Scotland can really be called a tide, and while the SNP made some progress in cities like Glasgow, the underperformance on the Nationalists’ part meant that predictions of a mere 40% of the vote in the up coming General Election seem on the generous side of realistic, endagnering as many as 16 SNP seats.
The only part of the UK that the Tories appeared to struggle was in Wales, where the Welsh Conservatives put on just 83 seats. However, the unique status of Welsh local government should be considered: the second biggest block of councillors in Wales are the independents, who gained control of Labour strongholds Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil. In Wrexham, the Tories extended their reach in a key General Election target seat, while they also took control of Monmouthshire and matched their 2008 record success in Cardiff.
However, the recent different YouGov polling in Wales presented here does mean that even with a modest performance in Wales, the General Election campaign still warrants the prospect of a ‘blue tidal surge’ in Wales come June 8th.
The Conservatives also did unsuually well in urban areas, a particularly notable point as the County Council elections are normally larger, more rural authorities which the Conservatives do well in. Recording wins in the Tees Valley Mayoral contest and the West Midlands Mayoral Contest showed the danger that the Conservatives pose to Labour in their traditional urban heartlands, especially when those areas heavily voted leave. What is also interesting from the West Midlands, however, is the transfer of Lib Dem and Green second preferences to the Conservatives, not to the Labour candidate — questioning whether Green calls for a ‘progressive alliance’ would even be worth the time and effort.
Again, in the South West, the Tories saw their candidate victorious in the West of England Mayoralty, posing questions to both Labour’s prospects in seats such as Bristol East, and the idea of a Lib Dem revival in Bath, Gloucestershire and Bristol West — a notable three-or-four-way contest between Labour, the Lib Dems, Green Party and possibly now the Conservatives. Though the overall picture is of Theresa May’s guarded ‘blue wall’ staying standing.
As Theresa May says she isn’t taking anything for granted and her Tory colleagues talk down the incredibly strong performance that the Conservative party has achieved, the prospect of a Conservative landslide on June 8th gets a step closer, and these local elections do little to expell that idea.
Come June, we may well be submerged in a blue tidal surge.