Four things we've learned from the local elections

By
Nigel Farage is greeted by a supporter following the local elections, but he hasn't done as well as the media thinks he has
Nigel Farage is greeted by a supporter following the local elections, but he hasn't done as well as the media thinks he has

1)     The media overhypes Ukip

Ukip's results have been impressive, but the media coverage has been disproportionate, bordering on hysterical. It's unclear if the party will even do better than the 139 net gains it won in the local elections last year. That's especially significant given there were only 2,363 seats last year compared to 4,216 this time around.

In fact, the situation is even worse than that. Their projected national vote share according to the BBC is just 17%. That's six points lower than last year. When you factor in the low turnout, less than 10 per cent of voters actually gave the party their support. That's impressive for a small party, but let's not get carried away. In fact, given the extent of coverage the party has received it's quite modest.

Nigel Farage also has the same old problem which all small parties, such as the Greens or Lib Dems, have: his support is spread out. It is not concentrated in a given area. This means his share of the vote can get very high without actually winning any councils or MPs. And indeed, he has failed to win control of a single council. He was not expected to, of course, but it's worth bearing in mind that despite the talk of a Ukip earthquake, local political power remains broadly unchanged. If it was an earthquake, it did very little structural damage.

Farage is admirably clear about his plans to counter this obstacle, but it is a long-term plan – certainly longer term than the general election – and that's if it works at all.


2)     Ed Miliband needs to pull his finger out

Labour has spent years middling its way through the political landscape. There have been flashes of brilliance, but generally the party has failed to say what it was for, except that energy bills have become quite dear. Labour did well in London, winning Hammersmith and Fulham, David Cameron's favourite council, and overturning a Conservative hold on Croydon despite a strong track record by the party in the area. But it is having zero resonance in Middle England.

Labour massaged down expectations ahead of the vote by saying it was aiming for 150 seats. In reality, it needed to be getting more like 400 to enjoy a good write up. It didn't get them. The public are profoundly uninspired by what Miliband has to say.

Labour MP Graham Stringer had a point this morning when he castigated Miliband for not having an answer to questions about his own cost of living while running on a cost of living ticket. Miliband's gaffes and disastrous photo ops, including a seeming physical inability to eat a sandwich and his assertion that someone he had not heard of was "doing a good job" were embarrassing. But they would have been survivable if we saw more of the perceptive, social democratic populism which he is perfectly capable of delivering. Instead, his instinctive reaction to the result seems to have been more vanilla platitudes. "I am determined to show we are rooted in your experiences," he said this afternoon. That type of language does not bode well.

Even political journalists, who are paid to pay attention to such things, struggle to summarise what Labour's election campaign has been about - if it was about anything. Even successes did little more than highlight a broader failure. Labour's unexpected victory in Hammersmith and Fulham was heavily dependent on a campaign against the downgrading of Charing Cross hospital, for instance. Once upon a time Miliband talked constantly about the NHS. Where has that rhetoric gone? Perhaps if there was a little more of it, there would have been more Hammersmith and Fulhams.

There is a strong sense of complacency – about Ukip being a gift which splits the Tory vote, or being able to coast to power on 35% of the vote. The anonymous Labour figure who spoke to Huff Po today saying that Labour support drifting to Ukip was softer than Tory support may have had an interesting political point, but it spoke volumes about the party's mentality.

3)     The Liberal Democrats are doomed. Still.

One by one their straws have been grasped at and given way. Nick Clegg has tried it all: the tuition fee apology, the equidistance strategy, the weekly LBC call-in show, the Farage debate, the doggedly pro-European campaign. None of it has worked. Hopes that local areas with MPs would hold up proved overly optimistic.

It seems they are vulnerable on left and right, and could well end up losing seats to both Tories and Labour. Paradoxically, that's actually bad news for both other parties. They need the Lib Dem vote to hold up against their rival but topple when facing them.

Of extra concern to Lib Dems should be the fact that they would actually be expected to do better in local elections than general, given the robust, dogged nature of their local campaign work.

A BBC study this afternoon projected what would happen to the party in four of its seats if the today's results were repeated at the general election. They would have lost all four seats.

Clegg is saved by the fact there are no viable alternate candidates to his leadership but he is facing annihilation in 2015 and fast running out of ideas.

4)     Nobody seems to care that the Tories are in trouble

You'd hardly know it, but the Conservatives have had an appalling time. A casual reader might think Farage was prime minister, Miliband ran the losing party and David Cameron was... president. Sure, it has been a standard mid-term drubbing, but the fundamental Tory problem remains. It's been over 20 years since they won a majority, nine years since Cameron became leader and four years since they failed to win an election against a hugely unpopular Labour government.

There is no sign of a growth in Tory support. In fact, Labour's total consolidation of the capital, suggests the Conservatives continue to alienate young people and minorities.

This is a problem they have been repeatedly warned about and show no signs of addressing. Quite the opposite: the same voices which told Cameron that an in-out EU referendum would neutralise Ukip are now calling for an electoral pact with the party or to adopt tougher positions on welfare and immigration. They simply never learn.

The obstacles lined up ahead of Miliband are huge, but there is precious little sign the Tories know how to win an election either. At the moment, the most likely outcome in 2015 is a drab little affair, with Labour and the Lib Dems sharing power with a bare minimum of democratic legitimacy.

Comments

Load in comments