Sam Oakley takes a look at the fallout from the Local and Devolved elections as the dust begins to settle on a strange night in British politics
Everything changes and everything stays the same, so Aristotle once (more or less) said. London aside, that is essentially the takeaway from a very odd night and day of election results. The SNP remain in power in Scotland and Labour will remain in power in Wales. Labour lost a handful of councillors across England, as did the Tories (both shedding seats to the Lib Dems and UKIP), but at the time of writing only one council has changed hands with the #LibDemfightback bringing Watford back into orange. Only in London will we see any significant change, with Sadiq Khan looking like he will cruise to victory with something approaching 57% of first and second preferences – at the same time as Labour gaining a handful of additional seats in the assembly (including a notable victory in Merton & Wandsworth).
When you throw in a few Ken Livingstone cameos on the rolling news channels and an enormous government u-turn on a flagship education policy on top of these results, you can only conclude it’s been a strange 24 hours. There will be plenty of analysis across the newspapers this weekend as everyone attempts to digest what this means for the current state of the parties – arguably the scrapping of forced academies is the most significant event of all – and search for extrapolations for how this will affect the results in four years time. However, for the time being, here is a quick round-up of what you need to know and what you might like to read on the results.
The two big stories of the night were the continued collapse of Scottish Labour into a remarkable third place – a vacuum that the impressive Ruth Davidson and her Tories were only too happy to fill, -and the surprising inability of the SNP to keep their majority. George Eaton’s piece on how the political narrative in Scotland has changed from left v right (the SNP arguably aren’t particularly ‘left’ anyway) to nationalist v unionist is well worth reading, as is James Forsyth’s ambitious take on the inevitable decline of Nicola Sturgeon’s party north of the border. It’s hard to deny that the Tories will lead the Unionist charge from here on out and they will continue to benefit electorally from doing so.
Leanne Wood stole the headlines with her thumping victory over Leighton Andrews in the solid Labour heartland of the Rhondda, but Labour have done well to hold on to power in a continued minority government. It is perhaps the unlikely return of Neil Hamilton to the elected ranks, along with Mark Reckless, in the form of a mini UKIP surge (they are the only new party to have entered the Welsh Assembly since its establishment) that is the biggest ‘game-changer’ in Wales. There will be lots of enjoyable in-fighting to come, of that we can be certain. Henry Mance has an interesting piece on this for the FT.
There’s not an awful lot to see here. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party have seemingly out-performed the staggeringly low expectations by looking likely to shed fewer than 50 seats – but the outlook for them nationally is still quite bleak even when you take into account Miliband’s 2012 high-water mark that Corbyn was defending. Sam Coates of The Times has been tweeting about what this picture could, in theory, translate to for 2020. The Corbynites have been vociferous in defence of their Leader not doing as bad as the apocalpyse that was feared, but the fact remains that Labour have become the first opposition to lose council seats in midterm since 1985. That all said, it was (in relative terms) a good night for the Lib Dems – something which could also be extended to their holding onto all of their seats in Scotland and keeping their leader in Wales who will now likely be the Kingmaker for the Labour minority government.
With it all over but for the shouting, we’ll have Mayor Khan in City Hall. What Sadiq’s victory has shown us is that, more than ever, London is a fundamentally Labour city and we may look on the Johnson years as mere anomalies, with Boris out-performing the Tory brand and Ken Livingstone under-performing the Labour one in ’08 and ’12. What we’ve also witnesses is the apparent demise of Zac Goldsmith’s political career. There will be a lot of Tories criticising the nature of the campaign in the coming days (Andrew Boff led the charge last night and into this afternoon) and it is certainly sad for a man who, coming into this campaign, was lauded for his integrity and exits the contest with very little remaining.
Team Corbyn will also take heart from the fact that, more broadly, metropolitian England remains fundamentally red with Labour also winning mayoral races in Salford and Liverpool with a likely Bristol victory in the offing.