Local elections 2017 - the story so far

Prime Minister Theresa May is set for a strong showing in the local elections ahead of a probable landslide next month
Prime Minister Theresa May is set for a strong showing in the local elections ahead of a probable landslide next month

By Chaminda Jayanetti

It's 9am and the Tories are sweeping through English councils, with Labour taking a hit in Wales. Scotland is expected to turn into an SNP-Tory battleground, whilst the first "metro mayor", in the West of England, has gone to the Conservatives after a tight three-way fight. Ukip, meanwhile, has so far lost every single seat it was defending and is heading for wipeout.

The Tories are prospering while Ukip face oblivion and Labour and the Lib Dems struggle. Theresa May's gamble on open confrontation with the EU is paying off spectacularly as she hoovers up Ukip support. What effect will her warlike stance have on Brexit talks? Who cares. Since when did the future matter to a country pining for its past?

The Tories are heading for a landslide in June


As Stephen Bush notes in the New Statesman, the historical precedent is that when a local election is swiftly followed by a general election, the Tories improve and Labour decline between the two votes. Given that the Tories are already scoring significant wins in the wards that make up Labour-held marginals such as Barrow and Furness, Copeland and Wrexham, they will be confident of building a significant three-figure majority in June - what cricketers call a "daddy hundred".

Labour are having a bad night - but not everywhere

Labour's performance is very, very bad - losing heavily in Cumbria and taking a hit in seats that we must now describe as "former marginals" in Lincolnshire and Essex - but its vote is holding up in places. Sometimes they are being overtaken by the Tories loading up on Ukip votes, but in the city mayoral votes they are not bleeding support to the Liberal Democrats. Comfortably holding on to the Doncaster mayoralty is a positive sign, albeit an isolated one.

Welsh Labour is in danger but not in meltdown - yet

Labour has had a terrible night in Wrexham, but its vote has held up in Newport - a Tory target in the general election - Cardiff and Swansea. There is historic significance to its loss of control in Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent, but these setbacks are at the hands of independents rather than Tories.

Nevertheless, Welsh Labour's position is precarious. Welsh polling expert Roger Scully pointed out overnight that recent surveys showed Labour two percent ahead in the local elections - but ten points behind the Tories in the general election. If that carries through, the Conservatives could still be on course to become Wales' largest party, leaving a trail of Labour wreckage in its wake. Alternatively, we may find the Tory brand is still too toxic for them to win in old Labour heartlands.

Corbynites can't just blame the media

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is blaming media bias for Labour's woes. This is just noise to feed victimhood to the Corbynite base.

Corbyn knew full well on becoming leader that he would face an intensely hostile press. His first response was to inexplicably hire Seamus Milne as his press chief - an opinion writer with few relevant skills who has since demonstrated his wholesale unsuitability for the job. Since then Labour's press strategy has degenerated into one of hostile ignorance.

If you stand for the leadership, you accept certain responsibilities. One of those is to come up with strategies to manage any headwinds. The media was always going to be a gale force headwind for Corbyn - his job was to have a strategy to cut a path through it. He hasn't had one. Now his allies are complaining. It is a total abdication of responsibility.

The Lib Dems are facing an existential crisis

The Brexit election was a golden opportunity for the Lib Dems -an early chance to recover from their 2015 thrashing and re-establish themselves in parliament as the Party of Remain.

There are no signs of this happening. They are currently losing seats rather than winning them - outmuscled by the Tories among Conservative Remain-voters who are taking on board May's "strong and stable line", while too far behind in Labour-held targets to actually win the seats.

Failure to be "the story" of these local elections denies them the positive coverage they desperately needed to regain momentum after their haphazard start to the general election campaign. If they can't gorge on Remain voters, where are their seats going to come from?

If the Lib Dems don't emerge with at least 15 MPs after the general election there's a real danger they will simply fade into the background as a national irrelevance. What would the point of them be? Should the far left keep control of the Labour leadership, there's a chance Labour centrists will defect to them - without that, they could be doomed to the fate of their predecessor Liberal party - essentially, as eccentric zombies.

Ukip are finished

Finished. Gone. Dead. Extinct. It would be joyous were it not for the fact that the Tories have virtually become them. But the Ukip wipeout at least ought to mean the BBC stops giving them thier regular free advertising  - although no doubt they'll now be invited on to discuss "what went wrong", "where they go from here", and after the general election, "will Nigel Farage return"....

Continuity Remain is on its last legs

There was always a question over just how many Remain voters were going to push back against the referendum result - the angry intransigents of so-called Continuity Remain.

It's increasingly looking like the answer is - not many.

Labour's Blairites beyond London have fled from their Europhilia. The Lib Dems are static. A Tory landslide with no Lib Dem boost will take all the impetus away from ardent Remainers - having fought an election as the Party of Remain, mediocre returns will feed a Tory narrative that the country outside London has accepted and swung behind Brexit.

Tory Remain voters trust May. Labour Remain voters haven't forgiven the junior partner in David Cameron's coalition. The Brexit referendum feels like the last war. The next war will be one for national economic survival.

Ultimately, Continuity Remain may never have been much more than London liberals and a twitter bubble. That doesn't mean its arguments were wrong. It just means it was never really there.

Chaminda Jayanetti is covering the general election for politics.co.uk. He tweets here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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