THE BLOG

As Local Elections Results Come In, It's Time to Look Behind the Headlines

23/05/2014 16:22 BST | Updated 23/07/2014 10:59 BST

So as we approach midday on the day after the night before, what have we learned so far?

At first glance, from the local election results already out, both Labour and the Conservatives will be mildly - but not unduly - pleased. It looks like Labour are going to make some solid council gains (Merton, Hammersmith and Fulham), as well as end up safely as the party with the largest share of the vote. Not spectacular, but a plausible base-camp from which to attack next year's General Election.

Meanwhile early results suggest that the Conservatives have not suffered the sort of carnage that one would expect of an unpopular government on a clear losing trajectory with a year to go. It wasn't a great night, but it could have been so much worse. And the UKIP 'earthquake' doesn't appear quite as seismic as some predicted.

But the results themselves only tell part of the story. Of course, much depends on Sunday's European Election results. And the Tories are well placed in the expectations game here. It wasn't too long ago that we all thought that a UKIP win would cause the Conservatives to start tearing themselves apart. But now a UKIP victory is priced in to most people's predictions, and the Tories can take heart from a campaign run with tight message discipline and loyalty. Their relentless narrative around economic recovery will increase in appeal over the coming months, and David Cameron will be hoping that anything short of a UKIP landslide on Sunday should keep the Conservatives relatively calm.

The wobbles may come instead in the Leader of the Opposition's office, where any UKIP win in share of the vote will underline Labour's failure to convince the electorate that they are a plausible alternative to the Coalition. Expect even more scrutiny of Ed Miliband's polices - and, yes, his breakfast choices. More worryingly, Ed should expect an increase in the volume of carping from his own side, even as the Conservatives appear to be rediscovering a talent for loyalty.

And what of the Lib Dems? Even with the clearest losers from yesterday's vote, things aren't quite what they seem. Should the UKIP protest vote recede before the General Election, as it surely must, the impact on the Lib Dems as the third party will be reduced. And don't underestimate the power of personal incumbency for a huge number of Lib Dem MPs, even as the Party itself is reviled by the same voters (Ed Davey, for example, will be a lot harder to dislodge in Kingston than his councillors proved to be).

So as the Councils continue to announce throughout the day, and as we eagerly await the European outcome on Sunday, do keep an eye on the results. But also look behind the headlines, where you'll find an equally significant tale.