Some thoughts on the results so far.
1. Despite what much of the media is saying this morning, this is not – so far – a Ukip “surge”. I’d describe it more as a foray into local government. A surge implies a consistent and considerable advance right across the country. This hasn’t happened. Instead, Ukip has made a series of limited advances in a variety of places, which has so far given them around 100 councillors, but they’ve come nowhere winning control of an actual council.
2. Labour‘s ambitions have faltered, but not failed. The party has missed out on some key targets, including Worcester, Walsall and Swindon. But it’s hanging on elsewhere and is doing remarkably well in London, capturing Hammersmith and Fulham: somewhere I’d previously described as a safe Tory council.
3. The Liberal Democrats‘ pain is not abating. In each set of local elections since 2010 the party has lost hundreds of councillors and slipped further and further behind parties with which it used to enjoy a parity. That shows no sign of stopping this time. Losing Cambridge to Labour and Kingston-upon-Thames to the Tories are two high-profile calamities.
4. And yet the Lib Dems aren’t completely down and out. They beat off competition from strong Ukip candidates in Eastleigh, and increased their hold on Sutton. Nick Clegg‘s position as leader is safe.
5. The Tories are still failing to pick up support in areas they need to win in next year’s general election. In London and the north, the party has gone backwards. This hasn’t just been a consequence of votes going to Ukip; Labour has seen its own vote hold up and sometimes increase. Conservative politicians really need to think up ways of appealing to voters in these areas, but in a way that doesn’t put off its supporters elsewhere, specifically…
6. South-east England. It’s where Ukip has denied Tories control of Basildon, Castle Point and Southend councils, and done the same for Labour in Thurrock. Ukip made 11 gains in Basildon and five in both Southend and Castle Point. We’ve got Colchester, Epping Forest and Rochford still to come. The region feels like the one that has most to offer for Ukip – and yet it’s crucial to both the Tories and Labour come the general election. The south-east could be where that particular contest is won and lost.