POLITICS

Analysis: What The 2017 Local Election Results Tell Us So Far About Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn And UKIP

UKIP wipeout, Labour in retreat as 'President May' dominates England

05/05/2017 10:18 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 12:19 BST
PA Wire/PA Images

It’s just five weeks until the general election and we have the extraordinary spectacle of a governing party making local council gains that in normal times would be made by the Opposition.

These are not normal times, of course, with the backwash from the Brexit referendum last year still flooding over the landscape.

Labour’s splits on the EU are more apparent than ever, while Tory unity has snapped back like a piece of knicker elastic. UKIP looks like it will cease to exist as President Theresa May mops up the Leaver vote.

For the first time since Thatcher’s fall, the Conservatives are at peace over Europe. Professor John Curtice, the polling expert who is so beloved he has his own memes, told Radio 5 Live: ”It’s early days, but it could be the best set of local election results for the Tories for 25 years or so.”

So here are the scores on the doors so far after 23 English and Welsh counties declared results: the Tories have a net gain of 150 seats, Labour a net loss of 119, Lib Dems are down 29, UKIP down 41 (and have still not won a single seat yet). The Greens have picked up five.

The Kippers’ demise is truly striking. UKIP have been wiped out in Lincolnshire losing all 13 seats, as well as nine in Essex. With its MEPs disappearing soon, no MPs and few councillors, the party is in danger of complete extinction.

Ex-leadership contender Lisa Duffy said the results were “disappointing” but she would “not call it a disaster”. Yep, that sounded like the Iraqi information minister in 2003 denying the tanks were in Baghdad.

But some Corbyn supporters are also trying to claim this morning that the Tory tanks are not on Labour lawns and that everyone should stop panicking.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told SkyNews “it hasn’t been the wipeout that the polls were predicting”. He’s right that in Wales the party held on in some areas and lost out to independents in others.

Yet in England things look less healthy. The big worry for Labour is that many UKIP voters were ex-Labour supporters, not just ex-Tories. In Harlow, where Corbyn visited a week ago, the UKIP vote was gobbled up by the Tories to take a seat from Labour.

In Warwickshire, where Tony Blair’s landslide secured key seats, the Tories piled up the votes, gaining 10 seats from Labour. Phil Johnson, Labour’s general election candidate for Nuneaton, lost his council seat and told the BBC: “People have been saying to us that Jeremy Corbyn’s style has been putting them off voting Labour.

McDonnell conceded on Today that his leader’s “image” was an issue with voters, but countered on Sky “as Jeremy gets more air time I think people begin to see the real Jeremy Corbyn’s character emerge and be more supportive”. He also attacked the media and predicted that once the Labour manifesto was published, “you’ll see this whole campaign begin to turn the tide”.

In Scotland later the Tories will be hoping for gains from the SNP, while Labour is braced for some historic losses. The big test in England for Labour comes in the West Midlands Metro Mayoralty result, due around 6pm.

McDonnell added on SkyNews that the Metro Mayoralty races in “Manchester and Liverpool will balance things out”, an odd claim given that the party was never going to lose either.

Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram will win. And as I reported yesterday, Rotheram is expected to announce he will step aside in the Westminster seat of Liverpool Walton, with Unite man Dan Carden the favourite to replace him.

Many in Labour are gearing up for a third leadership race, so such small changes could have big impacts. (Meanwhile, there are rumours that Laura Pidcock, the leftwinger selected for the safe Durham North West constituency, has overnight lost her seat on Northumberland council).

Yet the big picture nationally is what matters.

Theresa May is trying to turn this into a Presidential-style contest between her and Jeremy Corbyn - and successfully so if our HuffPost-Edelman focus groups are to go by.

Tory campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby is hammering that hard with yet another local paper wrap-around advert promoting the PM in banner headlines, while putting the word ‘Conservative’ in small print.

These ads are targeting not just marginals but Labour heartlands, more proof of May’s ‘lend me your vote’ strategy to secure a landslide. Tory candidates have been re-branded as ‘Theresa May’s local candidate’.

And this week, May dumped her phrase “every vote for the Conservatives” - used to call the election last month - with the new line “every vote for me”. 

Nearly 15 years since her famous speech attacking the Tories as “the nasty party”, it seems the PM know more than most how to spin the election message in her favour.

Which brings us back to the results overnight and filtering in today.

Normally council elections allow a major protest vote against a Government. When they look like a protest vote against the Opposition, and its leader, something really seismic may be happening.

And with just those five weeks to go to a general election, there’s little time to stop it getting worse.