Richard North, 03/05/2019  

One would have hoped to find something interesting to discuss for what has turned out to be a cold and rainy day, with snow forecast for the weekend to mark the "climate emergency" that's going to kill us all.

Local elections, of course, should be about local issues but, as I've noted so often before, since local authorities are little more than agents for central government, and councillors have been largely stripped of any power, we might just as well treat them as extended opinion polls. Any idea of there being meaningful local democracy died a long time ago.

Even had we all decided to focus on our local authorities and vote for the parties or individual who best represented our local needs, that might have been difficult to put into practice. We, like many, have not had a single leaflet from any of the candidates, and there has been no campaigning that I have been aware of. As an election campaign, this has been a complete non-event.

And in any case, as I predicted would happen (not that this took any genius to work out), the media – and the politicians trailing in their wake – are treating the elections as a national opinion poll – even though Wales and Scotland aren't voting. This is especially the case as the last set of elections coincided with the 2015 general election, making it a good baseline marker.

Prior to any results coming in, the bulk of the media was expecting the electorate, albeit in very low numbers, to deliver a verdict on Mrs May and her handling of Brexit, with a massacre of the Conservatives widely predicted.

By Monday, however, I suspect things will be largely back to normal (unless it does snow) which allows me to take the cue from Zarah Leander, in her wartime role as forces' sweetheart, telling us that davon geht die Welt nicht unter (the world will not end because of this). And, by the way, she was Swedish – having at one time claimed to have been a Soviet agent, something which she flatly denied.

From early indications, with only a fraction of the 248 councils declaring, the results don't seem to be going exactly the way the media expected. The Conservatives have certainly been taking some hits, but then so have Labour. This means that the Tories have kept some seats they might otherwise have been expected to lose.

Just after one in the morning, though, the most interesting gain had been in the Darfield ward of Barnsley, with a party labelled as D&V gaining 38.1 percent of the vote to take the seat in a traditional Labour heartland, where the Labour vote dropped 18.1 percent to bottom out at 33.8 percent – taking second place. With the initials standing for "diarrhoea and vomiting" (in my former line of work, which we used to enter on the food poisoning investigation forms), that seemed rather appropriate, except that I now understand they actually mean Democrats and Veterans.

But that is a small indication of what seems to be a general trend – smaller parties, with the Liberal Democrats as the main beneficiaries, making gains at the expense of the two main parties – although the shifts have not been of landslide proportions and the LD results reflect recovery from a poor showing in 2015.

Labour, to give a flavour of what has been happening, retained its flagship Sunderland Council, but lost four seats to the Tories, three to Ukip, two to the Lib Dems and one to the Greens. Hartlepool went from Labour to no overall control, losing four seats while independents took three. In Wirral, the council also switched from Labour to no overall control, losing two seats to the Greens and one to the Tories.

The Tories, on the other hand, saw Peterborough slipping to no overall control, having lost four seats with three going to Labour. Although the electorate had just got rid of its disgraced Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya, after a successful recall petition – the first time in history - this has not translated more generally into an anti-Labour vote.

Nevertheless, by 2.00am, the Conservatives had only lost marginally more seats than Labour. The Lib-Dems had been the biggest winner, Ukip had made small gains, but the Greens had fared better, while "others" had made substantial gains. An hour later, though, the gap had widened, with the Conservative losses standing at double the Labour rate, with the gap steadily widening. Ukip were showing substantial losses overall, despite some gains, while independents were prospering.

For all that, some of the more extravagant predictions of Tory losses are being played down, attributed to expectation management. Losses of a thousand or more are being cut back to around 500.

Results will continue to come in throughout today but, if we can take anything from the results so far, the tentative finding is that the electorate is expressing its distaste for two-party politics. The overarching message is not so much anti-Tory as declaring "a plague on both your houses". That augurs ill for Labour's general election ambitions, where a hung parliament looks to be a serious possibility.

Certainly, we can't on the face of this take it as a vastly pro-Brexit election, as the Lib Dems are doing so well, even if some people will insist on claiming otherwise. They seem to be acting more in the role of the traditional protest party rather than hoovering up the anti-Brexit votes. If anything, this is an anti-politics election.

This would have been more the case if we had heard that the turnout had been down, with a high number of spoiled votes. However, while some reports were claiming low voter turnout, here again, we seem to have a mixed picture.

With no national figures available, we can only take our cues from individual results, and in some areas the turnout seemed to be up. Plymouth, for instance – where Labour gained one seat – reported an increase over 2015. After the polls had closed, it was being suggested that the national level would be about average.

Labour, it seemed, had been relying on a low turnout, with the Tories staying at home in response to Mrs May's failure to deliver Brexit. With this not materialising, senior officials are having to resort to their own brand of expectation management, admitting that the results have not been as good as hoped for. It is being acknowledged that people are generally turned off politics.

The picture can of course change through the day, so I'll update this post as more results come in. The comments are open for election-related material.

Adds (17:47 hrs)

Well, the Tories really need to be singing the song now, to keep their spirits up. With results in from almost all of the 248 councils, their losses stand at 1,323 seats.  Expectation management now becomes disaster recovery. Labour stands at -77, while he big winners are the Lib Dems with 692 gains, and Independents who gain 656. The Greens gain 192 while Ukip lose 144.

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