Hello and welcome to my rolling analysis blog. I lined up a team of pollsters, academics, party political people, MPs, columnists and policy wonks who helped me interpret the results throughout Thursday night and all through Friday. Here's the result of my (and their) labours...
22:00 - After May 3rd's voting, coalition politics just got harder
Thanks very much for following my rolling analysis over the 24 hours since polls closed at this time yesterday night. Looking back at the parties' spinners then, it's clear that Labour are at the top end of their expectations. Pressure on Ed Miliband's leadership has diminished rather than increased. The party has performed well in England, Scotland and Wales. And now, even if Ken failed to quite get over the finish line, London can be added to that list too. This was a good set of elections for the Labour party.
The Conservatives, by contrast, have suffered one of their toughest nights in recent years. In 15 years, in fact: they were fighting seats won in their 2008 high-water mark, in broadly urban seats, after two years of being in government at a time of tough spending cuts. The party had a mixed performance in the north of England - mostly bad - and failed to offset those setbacks in the south against the Liberal Democrats, who managed to hold their own against their senior coalition partners. Boris' likely victory is a welcome distraction from the national picture, which has seen the loss of 405 councillors.
These were local elections, not referendums on the national government. But May 3rd's voting has three direct consequences on the ongoing struggle for parliament in the 2015 general election.
The coalition, having legislated its priorities in its opening two-year parliamentary session, is now moving into the implementation phase for a number of its key reforms. Unfortunately implementation relies on the cooperation of councils, which are responsible for the provision of many public services. Now the balance of power in the country's local authorities has shifted leftwards, pushing through the coalition's cherished policies has just got harder.
Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will also be relying on their quiet army of activists to fight the 2015 campaign. Every councillor lost between now and then undermines their ability to perform well. Analysis suggests that the current deterioration in support for the Tories might not necessarily be large enough for this to have a decisive impact. Still, this is an process of attrition - and there are two more sets of local elections to come before 2015. Time enough for further setbacks which could strengthen Labour's hand in three years' time.
Finally, the performance of fringe parties - notably Ukip - will only intensify already tense relations between the coalition's two parties. David Cameron has characteristically bowed to the wishes of his party whenever it comes to a clash between right-wingers and the Lib Dems. Will he do the same now the Conservatives feel extra pressure to move to the right? Could that further destabilise the coalition, as Lib Dems issue demands that Nick Clegg be more "spiky"?
This has been another agonising night for Clegg's party. Its grassroots had already taken an enormous battering in last year's elections and was forced to repeat the ordeal again in 2012. Its leadership is playing the long game, hoping voters will give it the benefit of the doubt come 2015. But if there is no base to mobilise those voters, how will the rewards of perseverance be reaped? The Lib Dems have few friends in Westminster at the moment, so could be forced to stomach even more right-wing policies from the government.
It was an odd atmosphere in those five heady days of May 2010, wasn't it? Anything seemed possible. Cleggmania was a recent memory. The Lib Dems had been building up to their moment in power for decades.
Two years later and the dream is turning into a nightmare. The electorate appears deeply unimpressed with the coalition experiment. Its disapproval, forcefully expressed at the ballot boxes on Thursday, has made an already tough challenge for the Tories and Lib Dems even tougher.
19:30 - A score-draw north of the border
The SNP-Labour struggle in this year's Scottish elections has been a fascinating one and, with the results now in, it seems both parties have something to be cheerful about.
This was essentially a draw: Labour gained 57 councillors, just one behind the nationalists' 58. Both parties gained two councils. The SNP, having won that extraordinarily unlikely overall majority in Holyrood in 2011, have not carried on that level of momentum - a near impossible task - but are still doing well. Yet they will be disappointed at their failure to prevent Labour continuing to dominate Glasgow council.
"There may be some indication that the debate on the Union has brought people away from the SNP back to their natural party, which is in Scotland is the Labour party," elections expert Rob Hayward tells me. The row between Westminster and Holyrood over the looming independence referendum has certainly riled feathers. "As well as the protest vote, I think the debate on the Union may have begun to have some impact."
Calum Cashley, who was at the Edinburgh count today, tells me that his party has done "superbly well", having achieved majority administrations in Dundee and Angus and increased the number of SNP councillors "quite stupendously". He is fairly blasé about Glasgow - "it's worth trying these things, it was a big ask to take it in the first place" - but refuses to accept this was a bad night for his party.
"We've been delivering in govt for five years, delivering on promises and making a better nation of it," he says. "We've been making Scotland a better place - that tends to attract support to you."
There is only so long this can go on, though, and Cashley now concedes the SNP will struggle to continue to do well in future years. "We're about to be getting to a stage where it's getting more and more difficult to add them on," he concedes.
17:15 - Is the coalition to blame for low turnout?
With less than ten councils left to call their results it's become clear that turnout this year has been truly appalling. This is always low for local elections, but the fact that just 32% of the electorate made it to the polls is a gnawing cause of anxiety for all those in Westminster and the spiritual Westminster village.
The problem may tie in with broader question-marks over the impact which having a coalition in Whitehall could have had on these local elections. Gideon Skinner, head of politics at Ipsos Mori, has been talking me through his assessment of the results. While Labour have done well but not brilliantly, he says, it's far from obvious what these results actually mean.
"We don't know what is normal in this coalition type government," he explains. "We know that normally there are midterm blues and one sees governments tend to do better as they get closer to an election. But we don't know what the normal rules are in a two-party coalition situation. What is good for the Liberal Democrats, what is good for Labour? What is good for the Conservatives in this situation?"
This matters when it comes to turnout because views towards the coalition parties lie at the heart of the debate over why there is so much apathy in British politics. Rafael Behr of the New Statesman referred to this in my discussion with him earlier this afternoon. "One way the coalition can have an effect on turnout is neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Tories feel 100% ownership of the government," he said. "So the activists can't go out and champion everything the government do."
The gradual breakdown of tribal patterns of voting is a well-established trend in British politics. It's a shift which is only being made worse by the coalition, as confusion about party identities looks to becoming an endemic problem in British politics. Four in ten party supporters said they didn't understand what their own party stands for. The Conservatives do the best on this, according to April polling by Ipsos Mori. Forty-four per cent of Tories say they don't know what their party stands for these days. Sounds bad, doesn't it? But the equivalent percentages for Labour and the Lib Dems are 56% and 64%.
"It may have been harder in some cases to get party activists to go out and really campaign," says Stuart Wilks-Heeg of the independent Democratic Audit organisation. "They may not have felt like putting up with what they were likely to hear on the doorstep. We know that happened to Labour at the tail-end of their time in office. If you don't canvass, less people will vote."
Wilks-Heeg is not completely convinced by the 'blame the coalition' thesis, however. He thinks other factors are responsible: British local politics is too polarised, increasing the 'no point voting here, it won't make a difference' problem. And people think local authorities don't really matter, as their tax-raising powers are so puny. "Probably all of us, me and you, are guilty in that we tend to treat local elections as glorified opinion polls for national politics rather than think about what it means locally," I'm told. Ouch! Looking over the contents of this rolling analysis, he's probably right.
The biggest problem when it comes to turnout is probably simply that the British people are fed up. Wilks-Heeg, whose organisation Democratic Audit analyses this sort of thing night and day, knows this all too well. "A very large segment of the population," he says, "is just completely disenchanted with politics". How much should we blame the coalition, with its parties' broken manifesto promises, for that? Sounds like a debate which could keep the Westminster bubble busy for days...
15:00 - How will Dave and Ed deal with Boris and Ken?
Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, both fiercely independent souls, appear to be serving up their party leaders another awkward election result this evening. Boris' victory is bad news for Ed Miliband, obviously. But might it be bad news for the prime minister, too?
"By the end of the day you could easily imagine a situation where David Cameron isn't feeling tremendously happy that Boris has won," Rafael Behr, the New Statesman's chief political commentator, tells me. "People will be pointing out the contrast between a man who can persuade floating voters, ordinary human beings, that the Conservative brand isn't toxic and a man who can't - ie the prime minister. That will be making him all the more uncomfortable."
This is "absurd", according to Liam Scott-Smith of the New Local Government Network thinktank. It "makes no sense at all". He says the significance of Boris' likely victory on the Conservative party is less to do with the political world's external views of how the party is faring and more to do with its ability to help Cameron cheer up the troops. "If you're a Conservative campaigner and you're looking at next year and staring down the barrel, you can say 'no, look at Boris'," he says. There might be awkward questions asked about Cameron's own brand, but at least it gives him the ability to point to the silver lining on what would otherwise be a very miserable day for his party.
Ken's defeat is, in any case, in part attributable to the lack of support he's had from his own party. Only four Labour MPs have campaigned with him, Scott-Smith says, which just goes to show that Ken's past has been neither forgiven nor forgotten. "What people might draw from Ken is if he doesn't have the backing of his own party it makes him look a little bit unstable," Scott-Smith adds. Boris, on the other hand, has been made to look like he has been managing his own campaign. Anyone who's followed the London race from the inside knows it's Boris who has been carefully stage-managed by his party. It doesn't matter to the millions of voters who look set to re-elect him later today.
13:30 - Why you should treat Tory election judgments with a pinch of salt
Be wary of interpretations of what these local election results mean for the Conservative party. The picture for the Tories is more complex than for any other party.
Some analysts I've spoken to, like Andy Sawford of the Local Government Information Unit, are viewing the Conservatives as having a worse performance than last year (when they actually gained four councils) because the Liberal Democrat vote is holding up against them, unlike last year.
But Rob Hayward, a Conservative party strategist and psephologist, doesn't see so much of a pattern. "The places that one looks at for headline changes are places which are not the Labour bastions. It looks like there's more in the south, but has one actually done worse in the south? I'm not absolutely sure," he says. "It was going to take longer for the Labour party to pick those up because the Labour party is not so strong in those places."
Tories I've spoken to are pointing out that compared with similar elections in previous administrations, the minus eight per cent seen by the Tories this year actually compares favourably. Earlier I wrote about the negative impact that bad local election results can have on eroding the party grassroots, viewed as critical for fighting and winning general election campaigns. Hayward is less convinced by this assessment. "Our minus eight is actually smaller than the three equivalent years in the last three Labour administrations," he says. "This is not such a dramatic proportion that the base has gone."
While it's easy to divide the Lib Dem performance into 'northern wipeout' and 'southern resilience', doing so for the Tories is not so easy. We haven't got results in yet from places like Leeds and Harrogate, but so far in many northern areas they are not doing as badly as was feared. Jason McCartney, the Tory MP for Colne Valley, was at the count in Kirklees, which has remained in no overall control. Here the Conservatives gained a seat from the Liberal Democrats.
This council seems to sum up the choppy picture for the Tories emerging from the north. "Our votes have held up in many other places, we're still a solid second," he says. "Labour have had a reasonable result but people certainly aren't flocking to them. We've got a Labour-run council here struggling to balance the books. There's been some very close results - across a wide area we've lost one seat to independents and one to the Greens, but it's a dissatisfaction with all the main parties, really."
David Skelton, the deputy director of the centre-right Policy Exchange thinktank who unsuccessfully contested North Durham for the Tories in 2010, says the party should not be so glib about its results in the north-east, however. Lots of Conservative seats on Sunderland council went back to Labour, for example. "For me," he says, "that shows how difficult it's going to be for Tories in the north at the next election - how much work they have to do. Given the major battleground at the next election is in the midlands and in the north, that has to be concerning for Tory strategists."
Professor John Greenaway of the University of East Anglia says the urban nature of many of the seats being contested will make the Tories more worried than they need to be. Next year, for example, it's the rural county councils which will be up for grabs; he suggests it could be a different story then. "I'm thinking about the immediate short-term political effects on the internal politics of the Conservative party," he muses. There is a real danger the Conservatives, worried by their performance, could get a distinct case of the jitters. They shouldn't jump to any alarming conclusions, it seems. Not only is the overall picture for the Tories far from obvious, the significance of these results is also full of uncertainty. A surprising finding, you might think - but telling in itself.
11:15 - Time to play the elected mayor blame game
Four referenda results in so far, and all four have voted 'no'. Calls for a post-mortem are already being made as the coalition confronts its elected mayor fiasco.
After the results in Nottingham, Manchester, Bradford and Coventry, the verdict is clear. "The campaign was a complete disaster," says Policy Exchange's deputy director David Skelton. Supporters of elected mayors are viewing the coalition's failure to provide clarity on what powers a directly elected mayor would be given as the number one reason for the bad news. But the problem seems to go further than that. "The campaign in favour has been absolutely lacklustre," Stuart Wilks-Heeg of Democratic Audit says. "Usually when people are presented with a referendum they say 'I'll leave it how it is', particularly when they don't understand the issues that well."
Skelton believes the business and trade union communities need to have a good hard look at themselves, too, to work out why we're seeing such a decisive rejection. The big problems identified so far are that the media's imagination just wasn't captured; that the campaigns weren't sufficiently high profile to make a difference; and, most worryingly, that "they didn't manage to get across the sense that this wasn't about electing just another politician". Earlier this week Policy Exchange published research showing that 81% of people don't think politicians understand the real world. As he notes about average turnout of around 32%: "The anti-politics mood is quite febrile at the moment."
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities thinktank, has been following the individual contests closely. While she is accepting that disengagement with politics is a big factor, the local factors are critical to understanding the results, too. Manchester already has a very strong leadership, so the difference having power concentrated into the person of a directly elected mayor wouldn't have made as big a difference there. Coventry is prospering at the moment, so it would not have felt the need for a chance. Nottingham was expected to reject the proposal, anyway.
The expectation is that even Birmingham, viewed as a shoe-in to vote 'yes' before polling day yesterday, will reject the proposals, leaving Jones gloomy about the prospects of getting even one more elected mayor as a result of this set of referenda. But the Institute for Government is telling me that it's still a little too early to be so downcast. Bristol and Leeds, both also viewed as likely 'yes' votes, are still to declare.
Still, Jones says, it's not looking good anywhere. "The mayoral Cabinet," she notes, "could be a very cosy affair indeed".
03:15 - The heavy price of local elections failure
Big councillor losses erode a party's political base in a way which will really count come the general election.
That's the warning I'm hearing this morning as local election results continue to show bad news for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
The coalition's junior party are especially vulnerable because of their smaller stature. But Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack says the party is doing well in Tory-Lib Dem marginal seats in southern England like Eastleigh and Cheltenham. "The early signs are we're doing reasonably well at holding our own in the areas that really matter for the next Westminster general election," he says. Elsewhere, in Hull for example, the number of net losses is decreasing. It's a form of stopping the rot, at least. "Even in places where it's tough up against Labour, people can see a good few steps have been taken down that road."
Overall this has been a night of two halves for the Liberal Democrats, who are clinging on in the south against the Tories but suffering badly in the north of the country. They are being wiped out in the north-west. "If you start to see your local govt base wiped out in certain places it's very hard to recover from that, not just in terms of local elections but in terms of winning parliamentary seats," Stuart Wilks-Heeg of Democratic Audit says. The Conservatives have already learned that to their cost in the metropolitan north-west, but for the Lib Dems it is becoming a matter of party survival. "What they've done is build up a local government base and from that a parliamentary base over two or three decades," Wilks-Heeg adds. "It's going to be wiped up in a single parliament."
The Conservatives are not immune from the impact of this kind of erosion, either. "There's no doubt the Conservative party really built up their challenge to win control in Westminster at the general election through making gains year on year in local elections," says Andy Sawford, chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit thinktank. This "quiet army" of footsoldiers working up support before the election was critical. Given David Cameron failed to win outright in 2010, he will be very worried by the voices of criticism that start to emerge on nights like tonight. The correlation between Labour's gains tonight and parliamentary marginals - in places like Exeter, Thurrock, Southampton, Plymouth and Reading - only underline the point.
01:45 - More left-wing councillors are a coalition nightmare
It's the witching hour for Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers, who are having to come to terms with the real implications of what tonight's results mean for the national government's cherished policies.
The coalition faces a practical policy headache which will have to be faced up to after tonight's results. "The government's moving into the implementation phase of a huge part of its programme," says Liam Scott-Smith of the New Local Government Network. Local government is one of the biggest muscles of the coalition's 'delivery arm'. It relies on councils to push through its changes, from the generic 'big society' to more detailed policy. So, Scott-Smith says, it's a big problem for ministers that that delivery arm is making a big shift to the left.
"That's going to make managing that relationship incredibly important," he says. "Eric Pickles has made political hay out of kicking local government, because it's been in majority Conservative control. "If that changes, it's going to be difficult for them to continue to do that."
This is going to be even more of a nightmare for the coalition because its policies are so divisive nationally, as Professor John Greenaway of the University of East Anglia has just told me. "One of the things we've all got to remember is Cameron didn't win the last general election," he points out, "which was I think a major disappointment. There's always been that question-mark in some sections of the party over him." Suspicions from the right of the party that Cameron has embraced liberal Toryism too wholeheartedly might now come under pressure.
Labour's progress in the south of England is clearly important. Its gain in Harlow exemplifies this: Ed Miliband needs to make gains in this part of the world if he is to become prime minister in 2015. Greenaway points out that the win in Great Yarmouth also reflects this trend. While Labour makes the most of its inroads in the south of England, the Conservatives are preferring to switch their rhetoric to highlighting their own comparably better performance in the 1999 and 2003 local elections. Scott-Smith isn't buying it.
"What's really interesting is this election feels like at the moment it's a referendum on the government," he says.
"I think the real battle will be can the government shift it to being a referendum on Ed Milbiand and Labour? That's the natural extension of the government's line. If they develop this and say the reason you didn't do as well as you could have done because people don't rate your leader."
Cameron's answer should be to hold firm. As one of Bill Clinton's advisers once put it: 'The Titanic didn't have a communications problem. It had an iceberg problem.' Scott-Smith believes David Cameron doesn't have a politics problem - he has an economics problem. No 10 needs to be talking about issues, not about politics, he says.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats' night of misery seems especially pronounced. I'm told stories of well-respected councillors who have fought strong campaigns are ending up losing time and time again. The tale is being repeated across urban areas though with some exceptions - Bristol and Portsmouth are the examples being offered up. It is certainly more than 'the north'.
This is bad news for Nick Clegg, whose strategy of trying to take the credit for the coalition's popular policies and distancing himself from the Tories appears to be failing. As Greenaway sums up: "From what I'm observing, they seem to be continuing to do as badly as last year." And that, as we all know, is extremely bad.
00:30 - Labour promise offsets London gloom
The first incoming results from Labour-held councils appear to be good news for Ed Miliband's party, which is seeing councillors returned at the top end of their expectations.
Turnout remains significantly low, at roughly 20% nationwide. That is half the average for a local election and says something about political engagement just "dribbling away", according to the New Statesman's chief political commentator Rafael Behr.
He assesses the situation as follows: Labour can be pleased with a vote share of around 40%, compared to the Tories in the low 30s, as this represents a decisive advantage. Anything more flaky, like 37%-33%, would be less convincing. The question then becomes, as the New Local Government Network's Liam Scott-Smith told me earlier, whether the Boris victory will dent the wind in Miliband's sails.
"The polls have been pointing at it for a long time," Behr says. "Also the uniqueness of the two candidates means that people have voted for Ken and Boris, or against them in spite of their party affiliation - everyone really knows that. That's in the price.
"If you couple a Boris win in London with a 40% vote share for Labour nationwide, what you get is a situation where people in the Conservative party start thinking this man is able to do something with the Tory brand that our own leader and prime minister isn't able to do it." In short, trouble for Cameron. An interesting interpretation there.
Labour certainly does appear to be doing well - especially in Birmingham, which is expected to oust its Tory-Lib Dem coalition from power after a decade in City Hall. Both coalition parties are doing very very badly, I'm told. A Liberal Democrat source covering the region explains: "It's not good. People are voting to make a national point. We haven't been victims of the protest vote before, not in this fashion, before." On the other hand, he adds: "The evidence from every other parliament has been that as time passes people's willingness to vote in a protest way diminishes." The inference there is that this year might not be as bad as last year for the Lib Dems. It was catastrophic then; but right now it appears it might be just as bad.
Ukip's progress continues to be a significant development, too. "We will throw a bloody great spanner in people's plans," their spokesperson is now saying. This will especially be the case in London if it manages to get two seats on the Assembly. Doing so could mean they hold the balance of power - making their Assembly members arguably the most powerful Ukip politicians in the party's history.
23:30 - Voters writing their own script on mayors and minor parties
As the first council results near, the initial indications are that this is not going to be the night we were quite expecting.
There are two particularly surprising elements to be looked at, it seems. The first is elected mayors. Reports emerging from Birmingham are that the referendum there is going to turn out a 'no' vote. That would be staggering.
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities thinktank, has told me that the contest seems to be going down to the wire in a number of places. "In each city there continues to be strong debate about whether to go for a mayor," she says. "In Birmingham there's a passionate 'no' campaign to go with the 'yes' campaign. There's a lot to play for for both campaigns in a lot of cities."
Nevertheless, Birmingham - with the most to gain from getting all that extra power - was widely expected to back having a mayor. If it says no the coalition's reform agenda could be in serious trouble, as other likely 'yes' cities - like Leeds and Bristol, not expected to declare their result until tomorrow afternoon - then fall under the same question-marks.
Here's one interesting factor that might weigh the other way. Liam Scott-Smith of the New Local Government Network has pointed out that in mayoral referenda in the UK since 2001, the lower the turnout, the more likely there will be a 'yes' vote for a mayor. So for supporters of the coalition's reform agenda for local government, all is not yet lost. "The mayoral referendums," Scott-Smith says, "are going to be absolutely fascinating".
The other surprise we're expecting is a strong performance from the 'other' parties - especially Ukip. It's polling level with the Liberal Democrats at nine per cent, according to YouGov, but party insiders are telling me that the first-past-the-post system means they might actually lose some seats. "I would say treading water overall is likely," a spokesperson's just told me. "It's going to be marginal either way." Ukip is actually suffering from the same problem as Labour: its biggest growth area is in the north, where its broader agenda of immigration pressures is resonating with poorer Labour voters.
Ukip will improve its base nonetheless, it seems. The party is especially optimistic in Dudley, Hull, Plymouth and Eastleigh. The spokesperson adds: "We've never translated this into first past the post but people are going 'I don't care' time around."
Another point to make, following up the broadbrush bad-news line leading my 22:30 analysis (see below), is that while it's looking bad for the Conservatives their likely win in the London mayoral election could take the edge off their glumness.
"Ed Miliband will have a powerful story in the morning about Labour election results, but will lose any momentum if Ken can't deliver London," Scott-Smith of NLGN adds. "Eighteen months ago Ed Miliband's major midterm electoral test was viewed as not being the euros or local elections, but actually whether Labour could win back London."
22:30 - Tories face a bruising night
With counting now well underway across the country all parties are furiously playing the expectations game. But the broad picture for the night is already clear: this is likely to be the Conservatives' worst night for 15 years.
There are three reasons for this, according to Rob Hayward, a Tory psephologist. Firstly, this is only the second time in 15 years that the Conservatives haven't been in opposition - and the opposition always does well. Secondly, last year the Conservatives did remarkably well. They were actually up four councils, a remarkable achievement. A repeat of that, after all the difficulties the government has experienced in recent months, seems impossible. Thirdly, four years ago - when most of the seats being fought over this year were last contested - was the Tories' best year for local elections during New Labour's 13 years in power. "For those three reasons," Hayward says, "the Tories are in for a bad night".
Of course this all bodes well for Ed Miliband's party, which could gain as many as 700 new councillors by the time all the results are in tomorrow evening. Their problem is they won't necessarily be gaining that many councils. Part of the problem is much of their recovery will be in places where they were always in control - the north of England, especially. Take Liverpool, where a mayoral election took place. "There is one virtually certain winner and there always has been," Stuart Wilks-Heeg of Democratic Audit (based at the University of Liverpool) says. Joe Anderson is likely to romp home. Labour will take home up to 80% of the seats on Liverpool council at the end of the night - gaining councillors, but not making a difference to their net council count.
"What you'll see is a huge block of red, in terms of the council map around Liverpool after tomorrow," Wilks-Heeg says. "That could well be repeated across in Greater Manchester, following on from results we saw last year. The question is: do we see that in the other big cities?"
Beyond places like Sefton and Wirral, which could switch from no overall control to Labour for the first time in many years, it's really in the south and the Midlands where the key changes - either from no overall control to Labour, or from Conservative to no overall control - will take place. Places like Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, Plymouth, Southampton, Derby, Harlow and Thurrock are all likely targets. These are the councils on which the success of Labour's night will be judged. Given that YouGov has given Labour a nine-point lead in its national vote share assessment - CON 32%, LAB 41%, LD 9%, UKIP 9% - it looks like they won't be disappointed. But we really will have to wait and see.