16:31 - I'm going to have to bring the blog to a close with that, althougj there will be a news story going up in a moment with all the details. Ultimately the day progressed much as we predicted at the start, although I think the Lib Dem performance was better than expected and the Labour performance too. However, that's all as nothing to the big story: the seemingly unstoppable rise of Ukip. See you next week for the Queen's Speech.
16:26 - Charlotte Henry's weekly Lib Dem diary raises some good points about the Lib Dem performance. Namely: If Nick Clegg is so toxic, how come the party doubled its majority in the council by-election in his constituency?
16:15 - Miliband's quite downbeat. He's saying all the right words but you get the 'competant but unremarkable' sense to him. "I’m pleased with the gains that we’ve made here in Hastings and across the south, and indeed in other parts of the country, in Derbyshire and elsewhere," he said. "We’re still waiting for the full results to come in. I also recognise, having gone round the country during this campaign, the vote for Ukip, the two-thirds of people who didn’t vote, that there are still lots of people saying ‘can anyone turn this country around?’ I believe Labour can and we’re carrying on that work to convince people that we can."
16:13 - Nottinghamshire just went to Labour, on the bare minimum needed to get control.
15:41 -Here's some analysis from Patrick Briône, director of research at the polling firm Survation: "Today is clearly a remarkably successful day for Ukip. From winning only eight councilors in 2009 they are on track to finish today with close to 100, and a share of the vote of around 24%. For a party with next to no grassroots network and little electoral track record it is a very strong achievement, though in line with our polling over the last year which has shown a consistently increasing level of support for them. Recent by-election successes such as Eastleigh have also helped pave the way for today's results by raising Ukip's profile and showing them to be a serious contender to the established parties. As for the wider impact, our analysis (see e.g. the scatter chart) has shown that Ukip's support comes primarily from the Conservatives and some Liberal Democrats to start with, but by the time they are polling over 20% they can be taking a significant chunk of the Labour vote away as well. This can be seen to be borne out in today's results - Ukip for instance knocked 4,600 votes off Labour's majority in South Shields despite the collapse of the Conservatives in the by-election. While Ukip's vote share in many strongly Conservative areas will have cost the Tories seats to other parties including Labour, in the areas where UKIP has done their best they have taken seats that might otherwise have gone to Labour. Overall, then, Labour have benefited from UKIP's success, but may be starting to get slightly uncomfortable that UKIP is becoming a little bit too successful and starting to threaten their own seats as well."
15:10 - Cameron's latest comment on Ukip: "We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we are going to work really hard to win them back."
15:03 - Would you like some good news? Ok. While control for Nottinghamshire is still up in the air, it is interesting to note that the Mansfield Independent Forum has two council seats. This gives the local party two more seats nationally than the BNP now has.
15:01 - The consensus online is that the BBC has done something to the figures (no-one entirely sure what) to account for what I wrote below.
14:56 - According to the BBC, thats the lowest figure for the Conservatives since 1982 and the lowest figure for the Lib Dems ever. I'm not certain how they weight the data on this though. Today's contests are in shire seats which would lean Tory. If all they've done is project out then it significantly underestimates Labour support. It also over-estimates ukip support, because the patty is fielding candidates (one can only presume) where it most expects to win.
14:53 - Note the fact no party even hits the 30% mark on that one.
14:51 - The BBC have come out with their predicted national share if these numbers are repeated at a general election. LAB 29% CON 25% UKIP 23% LD 14%.
14:49 - The academics are feeling uncertain. Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire have both gone to no overall control.
14:36 - Tories have lost the Isle of Wight, which goes to no overall control.
14:27 - Dr Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, who claims to have foreseen the rise of Ukip before anyone, says socially conservative voters have finally found an outlet for their views. "Ukip's surge in support constitutes the biggest shakeup to the English political establishment in the post-war era," he said. "Our research analyses this surge and looks at what factors are driving voters to Ukip. These results are the culmination of a long-running trend, as socially conservative older working class voters express their unhappiness with the political options they have on offer. They have now found an outlet for their disaffection."
14:26 - In Northumberland Labour fall two short of control. Lib Dems went from 25 to 11.
13:59 - Lot's of chatter online about how scary the prospect of a TV debate including Farage would be for Cameron. The consensus is: very. I have to say that probably works both ways and the harsh light of scrutiny could see the Ukip leader come a cropper too, especially if someone bothers to look at their actual policies. In other news, Tories lose Norfolk to no overall control.
13:53 - Lancashire has been lost to the Tories. They have gone from 51seats to 34. Labur is the biggest party but with no overall control.
13:51 - That result says a lot. The Ukip surge allowed Labour to sneak in and take it. Labour's Laura Price beat Ukip's James Firth Robertshaw by just ten votes.
13:49 - Big result: The Tories have come third in the PM's own constituency. If that doesn't set off their spider sense, nothing will.
13:43 - A lot of pundits have been getting rather over-excited by the rise and rise of Ukip, but at least one academic isn't getting carried away. "Some people are inclined to think this is the breaking of the mould of British politics, but I'm inclined to think that it isn't," Stuart Wilks-Heeg, professor of social policy at the University of Liverpool and former director of Democratic Audit, has been telling Jo-Anna K. Burnett. "It's a problem for Labour for ways that they don't realise yet. This is the ultimate anti-politics election. It's incredible results for Ukip clearly. Many of us saw this thing coming, so it's not a complete surprise. This will really cause huge tension within the Conservative party. It's more cause to be tough on immigration and will place David Cameron in a very difficult position." Safe Conservative territory is shrinking pretty fast, he argues, with Ukip now causing the Tories problems in places like the home counties. "What these results show is that we have this polarized electoral geography with the Conservatives retreating back to the strongholds in the south, with Ukip causing some problems, and Labour's making some great gains in places in the north," Wilks-Heeg says. "But Labour will need to start making headway in the south if they're going to win the general election."
13:41 - Conservatives hold Buckinghamshire. Labour managed to get one councillor elected. That may seem small fry, but for Buckinghamshire it's a damn revolution.
13:33 - Hello, it's Ian Dunt back again. I have returned, along the way giving Mr Stevenson some more abuse for his clothes. He looked sad when I told him he looked as if he was about to wade into a pond to show his students what tadpoles look like. Anyway, onto more important matters. It looks like the Tories have lost East Sussex, where no-one will have overall control. They do remain the biggest party however.
13:24 - In Lancashire, it looks very much as if the Tories are slipping towards losing their overall majority. In 2009 they had 51 of 84 seats, with Labour pushed back to a thoroughly rubbish 16. Now Labour already has 37, having gained 21. The Tories are behind, on 29, and although they've made three gains have also lost 16 divisions. The Lib Dems are nowhere, which is roughly where they were before. Still some way to go for Labour, then, before they reach the 43 seats required for majority control. But they're getting there, which is yet more bad news for the Tories.
13:13 - Baron has a clear agenda, but his approach - that something needs to be changed, urgently - isn't shared by all. Douglas Carswell is very jittery on his blog but doesn't believe the real reason for the Tory malaise is a policy problem. He writes:
"We must beef up policy X" Boodle tells us. "No. It's all about being tougher on Y" insists Doodle. No it isn't. Even if Better Off Outers like me managed to get the rest of the party to agree to campaign for EU exit this week, we would not solve the problem."
No, what Carswell is worried about is "plausibility". "For too many people, both Labour and the Conservatives seem to be two sides of the same debased political currency," he complains. "Both parties seem to be run as Westminster-based operations, with a handful of local franchises." That's the difference between Ukip and the others. They're not part of the system.
This is a point of view getting some traction. Earlier, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston made the same point when speaking to the BBC. "We've got to address the issue of patronage because it's undermining the confidence that people have in politics and politicians," she said.
13:10 - There's still a lot of results to come through, but the debate is now well underway within the Conservative party about the Ukip problem. What on earth are they going to do about it? The eurosceptics have a clear message. Here's John Baron, the Basildon MP who is leading the charge to get David Cameron to legislate for a referendum in this parliament, rather than leaving the vote resting on whether the Tories get in at the next election. "We were always going to lose seats, given 2009 was a high-water mark," he says. "But the Party leadership has made two key errors. First of all, it has written off UKIP simply as a protest party full of cranks. Secondly, it has underestimated the extent of public mistrust when people hear politicians making promises about the EU – too many have been broken in the past. We need to learn from these errors.”
13:00 - Next up is Cumbria, which remains in no overall control. This is a county where the Lib Dems (headed by party president Tim Farron, the local MP) are strong in the south, with the Tories dominating in the rural areas of northern Lakeland and Labour filling up in built-up towns like Barrow. In 2009 the Tories were the largest party, with 38 seats and Labour on 24. The Lib Dems were on 16. Four years later, the picture is similar - but altered. The Conservatives have slipped to 26 seats. They are now firmly in second place, with Labour soaring to take 42% of the vote and 35 seats on the council. Bucking the national trend, the Lib Dems are unchanged on 16 seats. The Farron factor will surely have something to do with that.
12:54 - In Warwickshire, Labour won 12 seats and the Tories lost 13. The council has slipped to no overall control, with the Tories still the largest party on 26 seats. Labour has 22, the Lib Dems nine (Lib-Lab pact, anyone?) and the Greens on two. There were also three independents. Despite the progress made, Labour could have performed better than they have here and taken the council. The fact they haven't should be interpreted as a bit of a setback for them. They're having a good, but not fantastic, day today.
12:39 - The BNP has lost its only council seat in Lancashire to Labour. And here it is: Padiham and Burnley West, which was reportedly their only council seat left in the country. This time round the BNP got 358 votes, which puts them narrowly in fourth place. The winner, Marcus Johnstone, won for Labour with 1,455 votes.
12:34 - Time to zip over to Devon, now, where just nine divisions have been announced so far. But the early results are looking promising for the Tories, who had feared that the Lib Dems could have made more progress if they lost less votes than them. Initially, it's looking very strong for Ukip which is enjoying a 23% share of the vote. It only has one seat on the council, though. The Tories are down three per cent, but the Lib Dems are down by a whopping 16.5%. That really is painful for Nick Clegg and co.
12:28 - The Leamington Courier says the Tories have lost control of Warwickshire.
12:22 - Now the attention switches to neighbouring Warwickshire, which is either going to remain Conservative or slip into no overall control. There's only a handful of seats left but they are going to make the difference. Which is all tremendously exciting. Even if the Tories don't mess this up, it's still a very bad week for them. Their party leader, the former leader of the council, has already been ousted.
12:16 - And there we have it... in a sudden rush, four more Labour seats are declared and they're over the line. With eight divisions still to declare they have 35 councillors. Tories on 17, Lib Dems on two, Ukip - significantly - on zilch.
12:11 - Exciting developments in Derbyshire, where Labour is now on the cusp of taking control. The council was under a very narrow margin of Conservative control in 2009, but subsequently slipped into no overall control in the run-up to the election. Now Labour is creeping closer and closer to an overall majority. It currently has 31 seats, but needs another couple to get over the line... When it does so, this will be a feather in the cap for Labour. But it was expected - as is another council gain for Labour in neighbouring Nottinghamshire. It's Staffordshire and Warwickshire which are proving more competitive.
12:02 - The centre-left thinktank IPPR have been doing a bit of thinking about Englishness and the rise of unrest among the English. In fact I interviewed their senior research fellow Glenn Gottfriend on this very topic recently - my podcast on the English question still being well worth a listen. Now IPPR has put out a release trying to frame Ukip's rise and rise within that context. Here's Richard Wyn-Jones, professor of politics at Cardiff University and a co-author of the report:
“To understand the rise of Ukip as simply a manifestation of anti-European sentiment or even some kind of anti-political spasm is to the ignore the very significant, and much broader transformation in attitudes currently underway in England. It is a transformation that is bringing England and Englishness to the fore as a political community and political identity. It is a transformation that the current political class seem scarcely to have noticed let alone formed a coherent response too. Ukip is surfing a wave of existential angst about England’s place in world.”
11:55 - It's already nearly midday, and the results are now starting to come in thick and fast. We're getting reports of a lot of Labour gains up north - nationally it's now got 42 councillors, 30 of which are gains. But there are also signs of a Labour recovery down south, too. In and around Ipswich, Labour is performing well in the county council elections with a clutch of Tory scalps. If that's the right phrase. The Conservatives are already down 66 seats, with the Lib Dems having lost 15.
11:34 - According to LabourList one of the best human stories is emerging from Accrington North, where a Labour gain from an independent has been confirmed. Nothing unusual there, you might say - but the Labour candidate just happens to be the daughter of the defeated incumbent. Malcolm Pritchard, who had a majority of 600, told the BBC beforehand: "No matter what happens, my daughter will always be my daughter and my feelings will always be the same." Just as well, really. Here's the best context para from the Beeb story: "Mr Pritchard also has a son, who is not involved in politics."
11:28 - In Hertfordshire, Labour now have 13 seats. Not bad going, as they had collapsed to just three in 2009, a mere ten per cent of the 30 seats they had just eight years earlier. This is real progress. But it still puts them a long way off their former position, which just goes to show how much more work needs to be done. Still, the early readings are that there is much to be cheerful about. In Warwickshire, Labour has taken a cluster of seats around Nuneaton and Kenilworth, a key marginal in the Westminster elections which went from red to blue in 2010.
11:22 - It's tough being a politician for any party, but being one for the Lib Dems often involves lowering your horizons these days. Richard Younger-Ross used to be a west country MP. Now he's been elected as a councillor in Teignmouth. A step down, but at least he's a councillor. A lot of Lib Dems are finding themselves with a lot more time on their hands.
11:07 - The Liberal Democrats might be having a bad time, but spare a thought for those other also-rans who really didn't do well. In Staffordshire, those getting less than one per cent of the vote include Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts (too left wing for their own good), the Official Monster Raving Loony party (accept no imitations), the Independent Libertarian Network (like Ukip, but even more disorganised) and the Moorlands Democratic Alliance. The latter was formed to oppose the refurbishment of a shed. That's right, a shed. Here's the full story from the local paper.
11:03 - Poor old Nigel Farage. His party has Arrived (with a capital 'A') but he's still grouchy about postal votes. What's the problem? Is he insinuating voter fraud, or what?
66% turnout in South Shields is postal voting. It is a total disgrace: postal votes must be scrapped.— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) May 2, 2013
11:00 - I've just been speaking to a Liberal Democrat, who is - typically, for a member of her party - very upbeat. She shouldn't be. Although the councillor she was campaigning for managed to get home with a reduced majority, the Larriib Dems saw one of their strongholds, St Albans, eroded. They lost two of their seven seats there, one to Labour and one to the Tories. This is a real setback for them - but they are always capable of looking on the bright side.
10:40 - Time to look at turnout from a quick sweep of the internets: In Buckinghamshire, roughly 25%. In Cumbria, 32%. In Wiltshire, about 32%. In Anglesey, the only contested local authority in Wales, 50% - relatively impressive. And in the South Shields by-election, of course, turnout was 39%.
10:30 - Over to Hertfordshire, where I was reporting, and time for a quick look at the results from last night. The council website isn't entirely useful, putting the 'other' vote share on 20%. Interestingly, the Conservative vote is down but not down too much, down 6.4%. Labour are up seven per cent and the Lib Dems down 12%, making them the main losers.
10:23 - The final wipeout of the Liberal Democrats in these counties is becoming clearer and clearer. Their national vote share is currently being placed on a thoroughly meagure 15%. They are losing seats fast - Labour could even outperform them, which given the councils up for grabs is simply eye-watering.
10:11 - The Midlands is one of the most interesting areas to follow, as - unlike in the bulk of the local elections taking place - Labour are actually the main opposition, rather than the Liberal Democrats. We're just starting to get the first results in now. In Warwickshire, there are not especially certain Labour gains on offer, but the Tories managed to hold on in last autumn's police and crime commissioner elections. The early indications are looking good for Miliband and co, however: of the first seven seats, they've gained three. The Green party have won a seat on the council, too. Which is nice. In Staffordshire, which is in a similar sort of position, the Tories are looking more solid on 36% of the vote. But Labour are not far behind on 31%, and Ukip are performing strongly - quelle surprise - on 22%.
09:56 - Hello there - this is Alex taking over from Ian for a bit. I've been out on the doorstep this week in sunny Hertfordshire, a county council dominated by the Conservatives. But I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing: a seriously large number of voters backing Ukip. Often when you get taken round canvassing, the party in question always takes you round a neck of the woods where they are especially strong. Ukip certainly did that in Hoddesdon, but even with that I was staggered by how well they were doing. With an awful lot of the results still to come, it's now clear that impression wasn't completely misguided.
09:16 - Odd news from Hampshire, where a distant relation of Guy Fawkes has been elected as a Ukip councillor. Philip Fawkes shares a common ancestor with the would-be bomber in the form of his great-great-grandfather. He took the South Waterside ward with a majority of 315 – a 37.2% share of the vote.
09:05 - Sushil Kantibhai Patel, the will-he-won't-he-has-he-hasn't-he-is-he-allowed-to-speak father of Tory MP Priti Patel came second in Hertfordshire country while standing under the Ukip banner. He was pretty far behind the Tories – over 1,200 votes.
08:51 - Here are the current results: Con -66, Lab +30, Lib Dem -15, Ukip +42
08:45 - The Lib Dem analysis of their situation is not without its qualities. It's motivated by the party's own self-interest, of course, but has some truth to it nonetheless. One party source is barely concealing his glee at Ukip's performance. "Most people who voted Ukip are ex-Tories who don't think the Conservative party is conservative enough," they say. "They pose a very serious problem for David Cameron. He must either shift the Tories to the right, and so lose centre ground voters to the Liberal Democrats, or shift his party to the centre, and split the right, helping the Liberal Democrats."
08:32 - Important point here. Note the way Conservative rhetoric around Ukip is softening. Just days ago Ken Clarke was calling them "strays" and William Hague was calling them "clowns". Here's what Tory chairman Grant Shapps was saying this morning: "People have sent a message. We get it. We hear what people are saying. People are concerned that we get on with the big issues facing hard-working people in this country, like fixing the economy, sorting out the welfare system, helping hard-working people to get on. Ukip have done well, I don't make any secret about that at all. We need to make sure that we are addressing the concerns of the public."
08:18 - Interesting interview wiith Nigel Farage on the BBC just now. "We've been gaining momentum for over two years," he said. "The people who vote for us are rejecting the establishment. And quite right too. I understand that completely. But are they voting Ukip just to stick two fingers up or because we're offering positive policy alternatives?" Farage flip flopped a bit on the point of Ukip. At one point he appeared to suggest the main role of the party was to influence Tory and Labour policy - basically to move the centre of political gravity to the right. At another point he cited the example of the Reform party in Canada to say fringe parties can become the biggest party in a parliament within one electoral cycle.
08:11 - Things aren't great for the Liberal Democrats. For a start there's that South Shields vote. 352. Just once more: Three-hundred-and-fifty-two. That's just 155 votes ahead of the Monster Raving Loony party. They're putting a brave face on things though. Sources say they are performing strongly in areas where they have parliamentary seats, which is apparently all they care about now. "Our focus for 2015 is to do well where it matters most – in seats we can actually win," they say. "That's the path back to power for the Liberal Democrats." On the plus side, they've gained two councillors in Cheltenham. They've kept 37.3% vote share in Eastleigh, next to Ukip's 35.3%. Close call.
08:01 - It's a bit too early to make a call on Labour's performance. They're currently averaging six to seven per cent wins. It's below their national polling, but this is not really their fight. These are shire elections, out of their comfort zone. On the other hand, they have dubbed themselves the 'one nation' party, so there's that. In Weymouth and Portland in Dorset they have picked up five seats after being wiped out in 2009 (not a good year for Labour, if you remember). Rallings and Thrasher set a target of 350 for the party. Much below that and there'll be good reason for concern about the direction Miliband is taking the party. He needs to show he can take southern bellweather seats like Gravesham and Basildon.
07:45 - The Tories, who are defending their core shire seats, have lost Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire, which are both now in 'no overall control ' (NOC). They held Dorset, Hertfordshire, Essex (where they lost 18 seats and Ukip won nine), Hampshire (where Ukip got ten seats) and Somerset. It's a bad day for the Conservatives but not, so far, a disastrous one. Look out for results from Staffordshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. If the Tories manage to keep these strongholds they'll be giving themselves a pat on the back.
07:38 - Ukip are performing strongly across the board with an average of 26% of the vote. This will almost certainly be the story of the day. In Essex they have won nine councillors, another three in Essex and one in Dorset. Three-quarters of them have been taken from the Tories. As things stand, the party has as many seats as Labour. It has already beaten the benchmark for its success set by polling experts Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher.
07:26 - Here are the full byelection results:
- Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab) 12,493 (50.51%, -1.51%)
- Richard Elvin (UKIP) 5,988 (24.21%)
- Karen Allen (C) 2,857 (11.55%, -10.04%)
- Ahmed Khan (Ind) 1,331 (5.38%)
- Phil Brown (Ind Soc) 750 (3.03%)
- Lady Dorothy MacBeth Brookes (BNP) 711 (2.87%, -3.65%)
- Hugh Annand (LD) 352 (1.42%, -12.79%)
- Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 197 (0.80%)
- Thomas Darwood (Ind) 57 (0.23%)
- Lab majority 6,505 (26.30%)
07:18 - OK here are the headlines: Labour retains South Shields. David Miliband's former seat stays with Labour after his decision to uproot to New York. Emma Lewell-Buck is the new MP. This was always a safe Labour seat and the result was unsurprising, but Ukip performance beat expectations. The party came second on 24% of the vote, pushing the Tories into third place. Ukip won 5,988 votes to Labour's 12,493. That cut Labour's majority down to 6,505, from 11,109 in 2010. Its share of the vote fell from 52% to 50.5%. The Liberal Democrats were humiliated. They came in seventh, losing their deposit, and won just 352 votes. That's a figure Nick Clegg may spend some time along in a room staring at. I mean honestly - read it again. Just 352 people in this seat voted Lib Dems. You could fit them in a house.
07:04 - Morning. It's going to be a long day, but the picture at the end of it will probably be similar to the picture this morning: Ukip triumphant, Liberal Democrats destroyed, Labour satisfactory, Tories have cause for concern. In a moment I'll bring you the main news from overnight, then focus on what's coming up during the day. I'll be with you until close of play today, when I shall shut the laptop and sprint to the pub faster than anyone thought possible.