Convention says be careful when reading across form local elections to a subsequent General Election.
But that was before May 2017. Now – uniquely – we have had local elections during the course of a General Election. It’s like reading the script before going to the theatre.
Of course June 8 won’t be exactly the same as May 4. But all the parties now have clear indicators as to what is going on. And all can set their playbooks for the next four weeks accordingly.
The party’s over. They have suffered the inevitable fate of single-issue parties once the issue has been addressed. They now have no purpose. Their voters have packed up and left, and gone over to the Tories.
No new narrative can be found before June 8.
So UKIP now has to decide to what extent it even wants to be in the game. They have until May 11 to decide where they want to field candidates. It looks as if there is no point doing so in seats where the defending MP, or new candidates, are for Brexit.
All the UKIP leaders can say between now and June 8 is that Mrs May needs to stick to ‘hard Brexit’. Which – presentationally – she will. They are virtually reduced to saying you might as well vote Conservative now.
Not winning here. The Liberal Democrats love the ‘surge’ and are past masters at spinning the narrative effectively. Farron has been giving it his best shot since the election was called. But May 4 shows that it just isn’t there. The party’s performance has even fallen well short of its recent local government by-election performance.
The pitch to Remainers clearly isn’t cutting through, and there is no reason to suppose that will change any time in the next four weeks.
With no discernible momentum, the chances are the party will fall back to defending what it has, and narrowing its ambitions down to just a small number of target gains. The party is not going to be a player in this General Election.
Scottish National Party
The SNP will have to be braced for losses to the Tories in a clutch of its seats. But the further emasculation of Labour in Scotland on May 4 does play in part into Sturgeon’s hands. The May results frame the narrative in the way she probably wants, simplifying the Scottish political contest to nationalist SNP versus unionist Tories. That squeezes Labour out of the picture completely.
The SNP can only keep the next four weeks tied to ‘stop hard Brexit’. And the more Mrs May talks ‘hard Brexit’ – in order to bag all those ex-UKIP votes – the better it will be for the SNP. They will go backwards on June 8; but they get the alignment they want for the script that will follow.
It’s bad. And it could now get worse. The awful results just pile up the evidence against the Corbyn experiment. Every round of local elections under his leadership has seen net losses, and they get bigger each time.
What happens now is both inevitable and destructive. The leadership debate will flare up again. What else can sitting Labour MPs with majorities under 6,000 do? They have to distance themselves from the leader.
The Corbynistas have their response ready. It wasn’t a wipe out. The voters will eventually understand us. And so on. All nonsense.
But it’s bald men fighting over a comb.
Labour’s public struggle over its leadership, its soul and its purpose will dominate the next four weeks, suffocating all attempts to focus the message on policy post manifesto launch.
Labour has not secured a central narrative for the election, and now they can do nothing to conceal their irreconcilable internal differences. Things can only get worse.
Mrs May is the Queen of Brexit. And for the next four weeks, that will do. There will need to be a bit of policy, but not too much. There will need to be a bit more substance behind the leadership and stability mantra, but that is undoubtedly planned and ready for launch at the right moment.
May 4 allows the Prime Minister the luxury of claiming she can cut through anywhere in the UK, even inner Glasgow.
The next four weeks are about keeping it all sufficiently interesting, reinforcing the threat of Corbyn, and combatting complacency. Other than that, there isn’t much to do. UKIP’s collapse and Corbyn have together already delivered the victory. And the occasional thrust at Brussels should be good for a bit more momentum if required.
We know how this play ends. All the producers have to do now is entice us back into the theatre.