Council and Mayoral elections are usually fought on local issues and therefore are not a true barometer of national sentiment, yet all political parties bar the Conservatives will have had much to ponder over the weekend. A total of 4,851 seats were being contested in yesterday’s local elections in 88 councils – including all the 32 councils in Scotland, 22 in Wales and 34 county councils and unitary authorities in England.

Looking at the results, the ‘Tories’ will genuinely now believe if they didn’t already that they are well on their way to a ‘barn-storming’ majority in the General Election on June 8th, with many now thinking a triple digit majority a real possibility.

Across the country, the Tories gained 563 seats and control of 11 councils, whereas the national ‘opposition’ party…(ahem)…Labour, lost 382 seats and control of 7 councils, including Glasgow City; one they have controlled for over forty years. This is the third set of electoral votes in which Labour have gone backwards and can only be described as a disaster this close to the General Election as opposed to Labour’s choice of phrasing: ‘disappointing.’

The ‘Corbyn factor’ is now well documented. Do not be surprised if you don’t see the face of Jeremy Corbyn on Labour literature posted through your letter-box in the coming weeks; his message and politics are simply not resonating with the electorate with many dubbing him ‘unelectable.’ In the words of the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on the BBC this morning, ‘Where people thought we were going to be wiped out we’ve done very well.’ If that is the measurement of Labour’s success and expectations; how the mighty have fallen.

The standout story of the night has to be the dramatic vote collapse of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which potentially spells end-game for a party that since 1997 has moved from the fringe of UK politics to part of the central debate. Without UKIP there would have undoubtedly not have been an EU referendum and Brexit vote last year. Many within UKIP high command will argue that this electoral haemorrhaging of votes and councillors is a price they are prepared to pay if Tories fully take up the mantle of Brexit.

UKIP has suffered for a multitude of reasons. However, what is telling is that when the party’s chief financial backer Arron Banks retweets ‘UKIPs profound ego driven treachery in stabbing Nigel Farage in the back has caused millions to walk away’ it is obvious to see where finger pointing will begin. UKIP has lost every seat they were defending going into this local election. The Party’s former saviour Farage has done his bit to try and rally the troops today claiming that UKIP has a responsibility to hold the government to account during the Brexit negotiations. Brexit was UKIP’s raison d’etre. Now that negotiations are underway following the triggering of Article 50, many will ask the simple question, what is the point of UKIP?

Other takeaways from this ‘hors d'oeuvre’ election is that the Lib Dems are flat-lining. Tim Farron was never going to wake up to find himself as Prime Minister on June 9th but as the only main political party across the UK squarely lining up behind the ‘remain’ vote, even offering the promise of a second EU referendum, their loss of 42 seats will come as both a surprise and set-back.

Plaid Cmyru in Wales have done well on the back of the Labour vote collapse and gained 33 seats. SNP vote has relatively held steady albeit a loss of 7 seats, though Nicola Sturgeon will be acutely aware that the Conservatives are now again a major force to be reckoned with north of the border, with Tory gains in some of the most deprived areas, including in the central belt. With the Conservatives having clearly come out in favour of the ‘union’ and adopting an anti Scottish independence stance, Sturgeon has a fight on her hands to prise Scotland away from the clutches of the ‘Austerity Tories and English horde.’

Last night also saw for the first time regional "metro mayor” elections with the Conservatives winning in the West of England with Tim Bowles and Ben Houchen in Tees Valley (normally a Labour stronghold). Former Labour cabinet minister Andy Burnham, who is stepping down as an MP won as expected in Greater Manchester. The hammer blow for Labour however being former John Lewis boss and Conservative candidate Andy Street pipping Labour’s Sion Simon to the post in the West Midlands race. Bearing in mind that Labour won last year's Crime Commissioner post by some 13,000 votes it shows just how far Labour have fallen in the eyes of the electorate.

The snap shot of the election is that across the board the Tories polled at 38% in this election, Labour at 27% and Lib Dems 18%. While these numbers aren’t anywhere near as extreme as recent polls that suggested the Tories enjoyed a 20% lead nationally, the mood music all suggests one-way traffic and a sweep of blue across the UK on June 8th. How the other parties tack and amend their electoral strategy in the weeks ahead will be interesting with one potential outcome being the further discussion of tactical voting on the centre left.

The Tories and Prime Minister Theresa May have spent the entire week trotting out the line that the UK needs ‘strong and stable leadership’ for the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the EU. In any other year, such a simple message bereft of policy detail (although party manifestos are yet to be published) would not suffice and be roundly attacked by all commentators. Chief Tory strategist Lynton Crosby will sleep easy this week knowing that the only thing that could undo Theresa May’s coronation is complacency. The Tory rank and file have never had it so good.

Leon Cook
Leon Cook

Leon Cook is a director in APCO’s London office. He provides senior UK public affairs counsel to APCO’s corporate and government clients. Read More