What The Local Election Results Mean For Brexit, Labour, The Tories, And The Small Parties

We asked the experts.

Local election results have been coming in from all over the country and Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, backbench MPs and commentators have all had their say.

The Conservatives lost more than 1,200 seats – their biggest defeat since John Major was prime minister, with councils including Chelmsford, Winchester and Bath falling directly into the hands of the Lib Dems.

But Labour was also licking its wounds after forfeiting control in heartland councils like Burnley, Hartlepool and Bolsover.

Despite some predictions that Jeremy Corbyn’s party could pick up three-figure gains, Labour was down more than 100 seats, though it did have the consolation of restoring control in Trafford for the first time sine 2003.

The Liberal Democrats, who are remain-supporting, were the major beneficiaries, taking control of 10 councils, while the Greens and a string of independents also fared unexpectedly well.

But what do the results really mean for the two big parties, the cross-party Brexit talks and the smaller outfits enjoying a surge?

We asked the experts.

Brexit talks

Corbyn has responded to a bruising night for Labour by backing May’s assertion that it puts a “huge impetus” on MPs from the two main parties to back a Brexit deal and get the UK out of the EU.

The Labour leader said “an arrangement has to be made, a deal has to be done, parliament has to resolve this issue – I think that is very, very clear”, indicating that a cross-party Brexit deal is now highly likely.

BBC elections expert Patrick English said that both parties would benefit from an historic agreement in the medium and long term, as it would allow them to move away from Brexit as an issue.

But he warned that they were both likely to feel a short-term backlash similar to voters’ punishment of the Liberal Democrats for entering a coalition with the Tories from 2010-15.

He told HuffPost UK: “In the short term someone is going to pay for that.

“It’s going to be a Lib Dem coalition scenario.

“You get Labour bailing out the Conservatives and making a sort of informal coalition with them and you see all these places that voted Lib Dem and Green, punishing Labour, who are not going to take too kindly to that.

“But I think that will be more of a shock effect, and on the other side as well for the Conservatives with the Brexit Party and Nigel Farage.

“In the medium and long term it is 100% in their interests to do a deal.”

Election data expert Ian Warren, of the Centre for Towns, warned Corbyn and Labour were likely to suffer the most.

“Conservatives express their dissatisfaction around Brexit and they are very good at doing that and then more often than not they remain loyal to the Conservatives at general elections,” he said.

“You don’t find that with Labour, which is a real problem. And it’s a problem of their own making, and it’s not down to Jeremy Corbyn, this has been going on for 15 years, this slow decline.”

Conservatives

The Tories were on course for a kicking in the polls, losing more than 1,000 councillors.

Renowned Tory psephologist Lord Hayward blamed the European Research Group of hard Brexit MPs for turning off middle class voters, as well as Leavers annoyed at May’s decision to delay Brexit until October 31.

“A lot of the Tory losses have not necessarily been from irate Leave voters,” the peer said.

“It’s clear that when the Tories start losing places like Woking and Guildford and Chelmsford and Cotswold and the like, it says a lot about the private sector Tory middle class, whether they are Leavers or Remainers, who are disaffected with the Tory party at the moment.”

He went on: “There’s a message for the Tory party, that it’s being perceived by a lot of people in the south-east, in particular south-south-east, as too ERG-dominated.

“And this will probably give a kick to the mainstream Tories to say look, you have damaged the party.”

English said that while Tories had managed expectations of heavy losses well, the results were still at the lowest end of their estimates.

“They have quite clearly been punished and voters are quite clearly frustrated with them, if this was a public opinion test on the Conservative party they have failed to pass that by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Labour

The party is down more than 100 councillors, a fundamentally bad result for a mid-term opposition party hoping to sweep into Downing Street.

“The opposition should be picking up hundreds of seats, they want to look like a government in waiting, and Labour are going to be down about 100 seats,” English said.

“It is extraordinary and it goes to show how far it seems at the minute they are from being that opposition in waiting, from being that party that people back and say ‘I want you to form the next government’.”

Labour also has a serious “existential problem” as it cannot reconcile its Leave-voting working class heartlands with Remain-voting cities, Warren said.

English added: “Voters up in Sunderland are probably abandoning them because of a Brexit betrayal but a lot of voters that have abandoned them in the south and some of those areas where you see them losing seats to the Lib Dems, in the Midlands as well, they are probably thinking I want Labour to back a People’s Votes.

“Perhaps talk of a deal with the Conservatives is hurting them as well.”

Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents

The Liberal Democrats (up more than 500 councillors), Green Party (up more than 150) and independent local candidates have enjoyed an unprecedented surge.

Lord Hayward said it is “more than a protest vote” while English agrees it could provide a platform for a longer term shift.

“The Liberal Democrats and the Greens are pretty hard to get rid of if they get in because they do tend to mobilise behind their elected representatives very effectively and keep their seats,” he said.

“They work very hard to consolidate what they have.

“While the Greens are running at about 10-11% of the vote share, they might not replicate that four years down the line but they might be able to really effectively consolidate with a 7-8% vote share and keep the seats they have won.”