As results continue to pour in, the Cicero Elections team give their verdicts on the performance of the major parties.
Conservatives: A very strong showing, but no complacency
The sound of any champagne corks in Tory HQ will be muted, if not banned entirely. While delighted to have achieved such a staggering number of local Council gains for a governing party, simultaneously shunting UKIP into the dark ages and defying any Lib Dem ‘fight back’, the image Tories need to portray is not one of complacency. Any sniff of celebration will be stamped out by Tory apparatchiks; any sign of smugness squashed. The Conservatives know any indication they consider a victory over Labour as ‘job done’ is dangerous and the ‘lines-to-take’ document doubtlessly being circulated to prospective parliamentary candidates will reflect the toned-down approach we’ve seen many take over the past few weeks.
It is not possible to ban fun in its entirety and it will be harder to dull more localised celebrations. Tim Bowles managed to avoid cracking a grin as he beat Labour’s Lesley Mansell to become the West of England’s metro mayor but no doubt a video will emerge at some point of an overly enthusiastic new Councillor. Cabinet ministers have done their best to look solemn as they circulate the newsrooms and there is an effort to ensure feelings are publicly sheltered. Privately, however, wins such as the one in Tees Valley mean there is hope, anticipation and an element of fear as consideration is given to the knowledge that the forthcoming election is theirs to lose. The Tories have had their best night since the 1970s but with five weeks until D-Day they know nothing can be taken for granted.
Joe Moor, Account Manager, Cicero Group
Labour: Glimmers of light, but the prospects are gloomy
On this day 12 years ago, Labour secured its third successive General Election victory on a reduced, but still substantial, majority of 66 seats. On today’s results, next month’s General Election is not going to be such a happy occasion. There are glimmers of light in today’s results – the big victories of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham, some good holds in major Welsh councils – but the overall picture is distinctly gloomy. At the time of writing, the net loss in council seats is approaching 300, and there is more to come. The loss of the Labour majority on Glasgow City Council for the first time since 1980 is a symbolic low-point, while failing to win the mayoralty in traditionally Labour Tees Valley will have been a bitter disappointment.
Corbyn loyalists are calling the results “mixed” and noting that some of the most apocalyptic forecasts have not quite been borne out. The projected national vote share according to the BBC suggests Labour on 27%, trailing the Tories on 38% – that’s not as bad as many of the national opinion polls. But the party should be wary of assuming that June 8 might be better than expected. For one thing, the Corbyn-effect may not be as potent in these local contests as in the national election next month. People know Jeremy Corbyn can’t become Prime Minister as a result of how they vote for their local councillors. He can as a result of how they vote for their local MP. If voters are as turned off by Corbyn’s leadership as polling indicates, the impact may only truly be felt next month.
Simon Fitzpatrick, Editor, Cicero Elections
UKIP: Is the party over?
While all the polls had predicted that these local elections would prove to be bad ones for UKIP, it is perhaps the scale of the losses which is so surprising. As of nearly 3.00pm this afternoon they have so far suffered a net loss of 116 seats in England, and only gained a single one. Areas which they had hoped to defend in Lincolnshire, where they had 13 seats and UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is standing in the General Election, saw them, bar the one seat they gained, being completely wiped out. There was a similar result in Essex, another area where they had previously done well, where they lost all nine of their councillors. They also lost all their councillors in Cambridgeshire. Their support has flooded to the Conservatives, which if the trend is repeated would have a hugely significant impact on the General Election. Labour held seats where the majority over the Conservatives is less than the UKIP vote share in 2015 would become very vulnerable, and our analysis suggests that this could cost Labour over 40 seats.
UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has said today that UKIP are “victims of [their] own success but a bright future still lays ahead”. However many will speculate that this is the beginning of the end of UKIP. Such a crushing result a few weeks before the General Election will not inspire any confidence amongst their candidates, activists, and potential voters that there is a role for them to play anymore. As Brexit negotiation begin, any sign that promises are being reneged on may yet cause some voters to return to the UKIP fold to ensure these concerns are not forgotten about. However, whether there will be a UKIP to return to at all by then, only time will tell. For now at least, the days of receiving nearly 4 million votes as they did in 2015, and having a significant presence in local government, appear to be behind them.
Chris Hughes, Account Executive, Cicero Group
Lib Dems: Fight back stalls
The Liberal Democrat’s so-called ‘fight back’ has failed to materialise in the local elections, as the party has struggled to make the significant gains hoped for across the country. Best described as a ‘scattered’ or ‘patchy’ performance, the Lib Dems have not made up ground lost to the Conservatives but have managed to win some seats back from UKIP. As a barometer of success, it is notable to say they have held more of their seats than Labour and increased their vote share in some key areas. Despite intense focus in the region, the Lib Dems struggled across the southwest. The Conservatives have managed to hold onto Dorset and Somerset county councils. A small victory, but the Lib Dems have ousted the Conservative local authority leaders, with former Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt taking control of a Conservative seat in Somerset.
Speaking to the BBC, former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable conceded that the results were “mixed” but insisted that they had “as a whole, held our ground”. Looking to put a positive spin on things, Sir Vince also said the party has seen an increased vote share in parts of the country where they hope to win back seats on 8 June. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has echoed this message saying based on the results so far the Lib Dems could more than double the size of their current parliamentary party.
One of the quirkier results of the day was the win in Northumberland which was decided through the unusual electoral tradition of drawing straws due to a tie. After two recounts for the South Blyth ward, Lib Dem candidate Lesley Rickersby won her seat by drawing the long straw. Overall, the situation seems a bit emblematic of the overall picture for the Lib Dems – a couple of random wins but an overall loss to the Conservatives. If this is any indication of things to come, the calls of a resurgence for the Lib Dems seem a bit premature.
Jasmin Harper, Senior Account Executive, Cicero Group
SNP: Cause for concern
The SNP have had things all their own way for quite some time north of the border. For the first time in a long time, they will look at a set of election results and feel a distinct pang of concern. The results are by no means a disaster, but as things stand they are looking at a net loss, while the Scottish Conservatives make significant strides forward. The SNP will be pleased at replacing Labour as the largest party in Glasgow – but that has been expected for some time. They will be less happy however to see net losses in places like Dundee, Perth and Aberdeenshire.
The real test will be in a month’s time, when any sense of going backwards will reduce the potency of Nicola Sturgeon’s demands for a second independence referendum. However, it will be under a very different voting system than the Single Transferable Vote used in these local contests. The First Past the Post system should ensure the SNP hold the vast majority of their Westminster seats – but even half a dozen losses or so could be spun as a major set back by pro-union opponents. Nicola Sturgeon will be nervous; Ruth Davidson will be delighted.
Simon Fitzpatrick, Editor, Cicero Elections
Conclusion: What – if anything – do these results tell us about the General Election?
There is no doubt that local and mayoral elections are a useful indicator ahead of a General Election; they help track party political support in a more real-world, scientific way than the opinion polls of which much of the public still remains sceptical. Whilst local election voting patterns could confirm many of the suspicions we have heading into June 8th, the results are not prescriptive. Amongst the thousands of local votes taking place across the country, politics at a local level can be won or lost because of anything from bin collections to bus services – none of the issues along which Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn are seeking to fight their respective party’s campaigns in the June General Election. Grouped as a whole though, the local elections help paint a picture from which electoral trends can be drawn.
Nevertheless, we should avoid the assumption that what happened in yesterday’s local votes will be directly mirrored in the upcoming General Election. Historically, local elections have not been an accurate indicator of party performances at the subsequent General Elections. In both 1938 and 1987, the only modern example of two votes taking place in such close proximity, the Conservative’s performance in the May local elections was 5% lower than in the June election that followed (source: The Telegraph/YouGov).
Under normal circumstances, local elections are an open goal for the opposition parties and a banana skin for the government. But in the same way the local politics can bring about bespoke results in local elections, this General Election also comes at a time of highly unique national politics. The vote to leave the EU on June 23rd means great questions will be asked of areas that voted Labour in the 2015 General Election but Leave in the EU referendum. Conservatives have enjoyed swings in those areas yesterday and will hope for the same come June. The fading threat of UKIP, laid bare by a failure to maintain any of their council seats, points to an overwhelming swing to the Conservatives. If those votes transfer in directly the same way in June, the Conservatives will shore up seats in which UKIP placed a close second in 2015 and perhaps more importantly could strike a fatal blow to Labour.
Ben Roback, Senior Account Executive