Thursday's Winners & Losers

Most of Thursday’s results are now in. They paint a confusing picture, and have very complex implications. They are, in a way, anti-climactic: the contests went broadly as the pollsters had suggested. In fact Labour did better than they dared believe, but still poorly.

Yes, Labour lost. Anyone saying otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or is deeply dishonest.

  1. Labour is now the third party in Scotland, behind the Conservatives.
  2.  Labour lost council seats for the first time in opposition in a non-election year since the mid-1980s
  3. Labour’s vote share dropped by 7.6% in Wales and by 9.2% in Scotland
  4. Labour lost its majority in the Welsh assembly

No, 2012 was not an extraordinary year, and measuring from 2015 is entirely meaningless. Milne’s crude spin is every bit as dishonest as anyone else’s.

Even though it was a bad night for Labour, it was a good night for Corbyn. He’d managed expectations perfectly: everyone knew Labour would be third in Scotland several weeks ago, but also thought Labour might lose 150 or more council seats. When he didn’t, Labour’s moderates lost all momentum. That coupled with Khan’s victory in London means he’s likely safe as leader until 2020.

The Tories had a mediocre night overall. A brilliant and historic result in Scotland, defying all logic, but a thumping defeat in London. They lost seats in the English councils, though not as many as a sitting government should at this stage, and fell behind Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly. Despite their setbacks in Wales and London, the results in England and Scotland seem to show us the Conservatives are looking electorally strong.

The Greens seat count in English council elections hasn’t (at the time of writing) changed, but did relatively well in the London Assembly. Their night was one of movement: a lot of new seats won, and a lot of old seats lost. This can be seen as a symptom of a protest party, or as a symptom of a party without the infrastructure or message needed to win any strategic victories. I suspect there’s an element of both.

The Scottish Greens are, weirdly, a completely different party and had a very different night. They overtook the Lib Dems in the Scottish parliament, entirely on their list vote. In fact, only 0.6% of Scottish people voted for a Green constituency MSP. Tactical voting on the list amongst supporters of independence has put them in a position they don’t deserve. They now have an opportunity to actually earn their place as Scotland’s fourth party.

The SNP may have won, but they will be disappointed. Despite their post-indyref surge and their 2015 Westminster whitewash, they lost their majority and actually won 6 fewer seats than in 2011. Weirdly, they actually increased their share by of the vote by 1.1%. The SNP lost out to a system designed to stop them getting a majority. There’s still a working majority of pro-independence MSPs, and the SNP won’t have any trouble continuing to govern.

Now we’re on to the actual winners. There aren’t many, and they aren’t that spectacular.

Plaid Cymru increased their vote share by 1.3%, and their seat count by one. That sounds insignificant but, because the Conservatives lost seats, Plaid is now the official opposition in the Welsh Assembly. That’s a big deal, and it appears their campaign strategy worked out.

UKIP may have failed to win any Scottish seats, but they’ve been big gainers elsewhere. Winning their first two seats in the London Assembly in a decade, and their first 7 seats in the Welsh Assembly ever. They also won two dozen seats in English councils. These are important gains, but you would expect a little more in the weeks before the European Referendum. Time will tell if this is enough to keep UKIP relevant after the referendum has been settled one way or the other.  

The big winners: the Lib Dems. I know, it’s a bit of a shock. We expected terrible things: 2011 and 2012 weren’t bad years for the Lib Dems- people weren’t, yet, punishing them for coalition- while the polls weren’t really showing any improvement on their historically disastrous 2015 showing. It was expected they’d be wiped out in Scotland, and face losses in England.

Things went a little better than that. The Lib Dems won more constituencies in Scotland than Labour did. They remain at 5 MSPs, and slipped to the sixth biggest party, but no one expected the Lib Dems to hold their own in Scotland.

They made big gains in England. They won 44 new councillors, and are actually the only party to have made a net gain of controlled councils. They won the most new councillors of any party, and had good showings in the mayoral elections outside of London.

If the Lib Dem fightback appears to be real in most of England and Scotland, it doesn’t in Wales or London. In both the Welsh and London Assemblies, the Lib Dems were reduced to only one member. The geographic nature of the fightback seems to be heavily focussed around seats they spectacularly lost in 2015, which indicates a modest Lib Dem recovery is probably on the cards- though note ‘modest’.