Latest numbers (accurate as of publication):
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With just over 80% of the English councils contested for yesterday declared, comment continues to be a mixture of everything ranging from wildly extrapolated consequences for 2015 to pure resuscitation of vote distributions.
Already however, some pretty clear lines are beginning to take shape from all the parties. UKIP are the party of the hour, successfully pipping well over 100 seats from the clutches of ‘the establishment’. The fact that the party is still strongly in fourth place behind the four main parties and still without control of a single council is irrelevant – the party has successfully translated hype and momentum into elected seats and birthed the “four party system”. The UKIP machine is acutely aware of this changing perspective and are capitalising, with Farage claiming the party can “hold the balance of power” in 2015. Therefore, although it may not be surprising, it is certainly significant that Farage has now come out saying he will stand in 2015, especially considering his previous hesitancy to commit to a Westminster seat.
Labour, despite appearing clear winners in pure numbers, are not being allowed to declare victory. For a main opposition party with near-continuous leading poll numbers, this ‘win’ is considered not quite enough to constitute a full success. Many commentators have chalked this underperformance up to Miliband’s leadership, with multiple references throughout the day to an anonymous senior Labour figure branding Miliband “weird” and Labour MP Graham Stringer’s accusation that the Opposition leader has led an “unforgivably unprofessional campaign.” The truth of the matter is that the UKIP vote has cut into the Labour vote in key areas in what has appeared to be a surprise to many Labour strategists. Along with movement from red to purple in Stroud, UKIP’s denial of a Labour majority in Thurrock is being cited as the prime example of this danger posed to Labour by UKIP.
The Conservatives are similarly experiencing a mixed day with highs and lows. The party is comforted by Labour’s inability to translate its winning seats into momentum but undoubtedly suffering the most from the UKIP surge. As the day has progressed and the party losses have inched closer to the dreaded -200 mark, divisions have begun to show within the party between those keen to fight the threat of UKIP (led by Party Chairman Grant Shapps & Michael Gove) and those keener to embrace the beast with a voter pact (backbenchers such as Douglas Carswell and Jacob Rees-Mogg). Such calls for a pact from these figures are not new, but UKIP’s new standing as a significant elected representative party will lend credence to the furore and perhaps galvanise momentum on the Tory backbenches. Another interesting observation throughout the day has been Cameron’s light presence during the proceedings. This will no doubt be a manoeuvre by Lynton Crosby to portray the leader as Prime Ministerial and ‘above the fray’ of petty local elections. Unfortunately, in the Westminster bubble, this has resulted in only bolstering UKIP’s image as the ‘belle of the ball’.
The Liberal Democrats have taken a significant shellacking, seeing at least 200 of their councillors lose their seats and the loss of at least two councils. Liberal Democrat circles of comment and opinion are attempting to paint a positive picture by focusing on the small victories – Sutton Council maintained, Watford Council and Mayor held. Many of these victories have been in areas with strong Liberal Democrat leadership, such as Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and South Lakeland Council under Tim Farron, only supporting the age-old idea that once the party is institutionally entrenched in an area, they are incredibly hard to oust.