As the party leaders digest today’s local election results, it is Theresa May who will be happiest with her party’s performance, albeit with signs of trouble ahead in some Tory heartlands.
As Councils continue counting this afternoon, the results so far around the country are mixed with only a few Town Halls changing hands.
In London, the Labour surge failed to materialise. The Conservatives comfortably retained control of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster, as well as holding on in Kensington & Chelsea to deny Labour any victories in London.
Outside of London, the collapse in the UKIP vote assisted the Conservatives, particularly in ‘Leave’ areas. They picked up seats in Derby and Nuneaton to take these councils from Labour into NOC, retained control in Swindon, and took overall control in Basildon and Peterborough – all key marginal areas that any future Labour government will need to win.
Overall, on a night where no one was the winner and only UKIP were the losers, the Conservatives will be able to claim to have won the expectations game.
However, there are some dark clouds on the horizon for the Conservatives: In Tandridge, Surrey, the Tories lost nine seats to a mixture of Lib Dems, Independents and Residents’ Associations because of an unpopular Local Plan which includes Garden Village proposals to meet their housing targets.
With the Government driving higher housing numbers in the Tory heartlands of the South East, this could become a recurring theme in the coming years.
Have we reached peak Corbyn?
Jeremy Corbyn today will be suffering a local election hangover. Labour has so far only gained Plymouth. The failure to win the single seat needed in Barnet, which has a large Jewish population, is being viewed by many in the party as a direct result of the anti-Semitism scandal, which has caused serious damage to the Corbyn brand.
It is also clear that Jeremy Corbyn’s far-left politics has limited appeal outside of London. The party has failed to make the gains expected from a ‘government in waiting’. This might be down to the fact that Corbyn’s base – younger voters – simply don’t vote at local elections.
Nevertheless, Labour’s pedestrian performance could reopen the debate about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and whether his can really he can really deliver a Labour government. All eyes now will be on internal Labour dynamics and understanding where the malign influence of Momentum has an impact.
Lib Dem gains make headlines
Understanding the outcome for the Lib Dems is more complex. Capturing Richmond-upon-Thames is a key win for them and they have also achieved thumping victories in Kingston and South Cambridgeshire, overturning large Conservative majorities as well as regaining Three Bridges and holding Sutton, Eastleigh and Watford. These results are partly fuelled by remainers seeking revenge for Brexit, but also by NIMBY opposition to Local Plans. Overall however the gains are modest and concentrated in a handful of areas that have returned Liberal Democrats in the past.
On a night when little changed, it is the Conservatives who will be most relieved and enjoying the bank holiday sunshine this weekend. Theresa May will be grateful the voters haven’t created another crisis for her leadership.