Good news: For a government fighting elections in mid term, their 33% share of the vote was reasonable. (I am using the figures produced by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of Nuffield College, Oxford. They draw on a much larger sample of wards than the BBC, which gave the Tories 30%.). Overall, the Tories lagged just two points behind Labour. In the 42 years since such data weas first collected, this is the smallest deficit of any Conservative government two years before the following election.
Bad news: The loss of almost 500 seats across England, Scotland and Wales was at the top end of their fears. My impression – detailed analysis has yet to be done – is that anti-Conservative tactical voting has returned. This cost the party around 30 seats in the 1997 general election when Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown led their respective parties but, with a few exceptions, was absent in 2019 when the leaders were Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson. A revival of tactical voting at the next general election could cost the Tories power.
Good news. It captured a number of target councils: Barnet and Wandsworth, es expected, together with Westminster and Worthing for the first time. It has returned to second place in Scotland and advanced in Wales. In the wards that make up the Wakefield parliamentary constituency, where a by-election will be held this summer, Labour defeated the Conservatives by 51-34%. The party also recovered in parts of the North that it needs to regain at the next general election, winning Burnley, Cumberland, Kirklees, Rossendale and West Lancashire.
Bad news. Labour’s two-point lead over the Tories fell far short of the 8% I gave last week as the target for the party to claim real success. In a general election, this would produce a hung parliament. In some places, Labour lost ground, losing control of Harrow and Croydon (as well as Tower Hamlets, whose recent political history has been both unusual and unsavoury). In its northern city battles with the Liberal Democrats, Labour lost Hull and failed to advance in Stockport and Sheffield. Overall, Labour’s national share of the vote was the same as in 2018, when these seats were last fought and Corbyn was party leader.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS and GREENS
Good news: Both parties made significant gains, with the Lib Dems gaining 222 seats and the Greens 87 across Britain. The Lib Dems gained Somerset and Hull, consolidated their hold on Cheltenham and Watford and came close to wiping out the Tories in Richmond-on-Thames and St Albans. In general, both the Lib Dems and Greens seem to have advanced most where they came a strong second last time. If this is confirmed by detailed analysis, it will reinforce the conclusion that tactical voting is back.
The Greens gained a seat in Sheffield. As this was the one significant council up for election this year where the Greens share power locally (with Labour in this case), the party has avoided the fate that the Lib Dems suffered nationally after they became junior members of David Cameron’s coalition government.
Bad news: The Lib Dems failed to take Sheffield and Stockport, two councils that they have controlled in the past and which they would have regained in a really good year. Overall, the Lib Dems fell short of the 20% national vote share that would have given them real bragging rights. How far short is debatable: the BBC projected national vote share put them on 19%, while Rallings and Thrasher say 17%.
The results leave two big questions to be answered as we approach the next general election.
Will we see the normal pattern of a government recovery between mid-term and the end of the Parliament? If so, then the Conservatives, even under Boris Johnson and despite his dreadful personal poll ratings, have a good chance of winning their fifth consecutive general election. If not – if this mid-term is fundamentally different, and Britain’s bleak economic prospects (among other factors) block Tory hopes of a recovery – then the Tories are in serious trouble.
Will the tactical voting that seems to have occurred last week be repeated in the different context of a general election? It’s worth spelling out why this matters. The Tories will need to win at least 310 seats, possibly 315, to remain in office. If they fall short, then they will not have enough MPs to pass the Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons. Labour could win significantly fewer seats – say around 260 – and still end up leading a minority government. If tactical voting returns, and has the same impact next time as it did in 1997, then this might well cause the Tory tally to dip from, say, an election-winning 330 to an election-losing 300.
One final, very tentative observation. Two London boroughs where Labour slipped back were Harrow (which they lost altogether) and Brent (where their majority slipped). Both boroughs have large Asian communities, which make up more than 40% of the local population. Is something happening to the pattern of ethnic loyalties, which Labour used to rely on? This is a question rather than an assertion: Redbridge also has a large Asian community, yet Labour gained seven seats. Once again, there is more data-crunching to be done to make full sense of last week’s results.