Source: BBC.

  • The best way of starting to think about the consequences of the local elections is to begin with Labour. This is because while the Conservatives expected a bad result – which they duly got in spades  – Labour expected a good one.  John McDonnell predicted that the party would gain about 400 seats.  Instead, it made a net loss of 82, and is down six councils.
  • This failure was driven by a number of factors.  One of them is short-term: the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn himself, with his hard left views and indulgence of anti-semitism.  Others are longer-term: in particular, Labour’s long separation from its traditional base, driven by the sense that the party now stands for identity politics and London (culturally rather than geographically) rather than the white working class, especially in the north and the midlands.
  • But the debate within the party will focus on Brexit – justifiably enough.  Remainers will argue that Liberal Democrats hoovered up lots of Labour votes, and that the party should be more anti-Brexit, not less.  They will double down on a second referendum.  Leavers will counter that this take is a gross simplification, and that Labour shed votes – as one left the greater South-East – all over the place, most strikingly to different bands of independents; and that these were in part a proxy for the Brexit Party, which wasn’t standing yesterday.  The real Brexit voter test, they will add, comes later this month.
  • Theresa May is therefore likely to intensify the latest variation of her chicken game.  She didn’t win the first version when playing against the European Research Group.  This is because enough of it, in the form of the “Spartans”, will oppose her deal come what may.  So she has turned to Corbyn instead – dividing her own party further in the process.  Her hope will now be that the Labour leader, spooked by these results, will let her deal through the Commons, for fear that the Brexit Party and new independent movements, in particular, further erode Labour’s support in its industrial heartlands at the next general election.
  • So the Prime Minister may now move to bring her deal back to the Commons quickly, on the expectation that, if it Brexit is delivered in any form before the European elections, the damage to the Conservatives will be less.  For the first time, we think there is a chance that Corbyn will play ball.  But on balance it is more likely that he won’t, at least yet; or that Downing Street may balk on his terms on the Customs Union – for now, anyway.  And that May will then try to turn the screw after the European elections, when the plight of the two main parties will be even worse.
  • Why begin this meditation with Labour?  Why not with the Conservatives – who, after all, lost the best part of 1300 seats, a worse result than their worst projections, and suffered their worst local election humiliation since 1995?  The bleak answer is that, for the blue party, “nothing will change” – or rather, nothing is likely to do so until after the European elections.  Some Tory MPs will conclude that Labour’s failure to gain from Conservative collapse draws the sting from these results.  We believe they are wrong, that May should go, and that the least bad option for the Party is a new leader, a revised Brexit policy – and an election within six months.
  • But on balance, the Conservative Parliamentary Party will probably wait until after the European elections to reach roughly the same conclusion.  The 1922 Committee Executive will not revise the leadership challenge rules.  The Cabinet will not rise up, and tell May to go.  The emergency National Convention Meeting won’t happen until June.  Perhaps the Prime Minister will put indicative votes on Brexit to the Commons soon, in an attempt to show that the Government is at least Doing Something.  But in essence, we are all waiting for Farage.
  • Aren’t we also waiting for the Liberal Democrats, who were yesterday’s election winners?  The answer is: up to a point.  The story of their return, like that of Labour’s troubles, is a complex one.  Some of their progress is undoubtedly the consequence of their opposition to Brexit, and it leaves the Independent Group all dressed up and with nowhere to go.  But the EU issue doesn’t explain all their progress in areas where the Leave vote was strong in 2016, such as parts of the South-West and North-East.
  • What seems to be happening more broadly is that the yellow party is gradually recovering its status as a protest party  – one that eventually got it into government in 2010.  Voter memories of its role in the Coalition, with tuition fees and all that, are beginning to fade.  It is no coincidence that yesterday’s cycle of elections last took place on the same day as 2015’s general election, when wrath with the Liberal Democrats was at its hottest.  They are growing from a low base – but “most strongly in wards where [they] started off second to the Conservatives”, in the words of John Curtice.  That is a warning.
  • We apologise for touching on only the main consequences of yesterday’s extraordinary elections.  Much about them has yet to be fully nailed down, such as turnout.  There were boundary changes, new independents, Green progress, UKIP defeats, local factors in plenty, a mass of spoilt papers, Mayoral contests – and exceptions to all these rules.  There is more than a hint that some Conservative councils were hit heavily by more housebuilding.  In some areas, Tory problems seem to have nothing much to do with Brexit or the local MP: consider the case of Tunbridge Wells, where independents are rampant.  In others, there is a stronger connection.  Mull the magnificent result in North-East Derbyshire – traditionally a Labour seat; won in 2017 by Lee Rowley; today, its council is no longer red, but blue.
  • Congratulations to Conservative councillors re-elected yesterday.  And commiserations to those who lose their wards through no fault of their own.  If polls and our own surveys are any guide, most of them want the Prime Minister out – now.  But Tory MPs are poised to put off until tomorrow (that’s to say, after the European elections) what they believe doesn’t have to be done today (that’s to say, replacing her with a better leader).  For the moment, she and Corbyn are like two frightened children, drawing nearer for comfort as the thunder rages outside their home.