Lib Dem success down to electorate giving Labour and Tories a kicking
PUBLISHED: 21:10 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 21:10 09 May 2019
On the face of it, the council elections were great for the Lib Dems. But, says, Iain Dale, that doesn't really tell the whole story
Last week's local elections sent some shockwaves around the region, with a resurgence of independent candidates, a boost for the Liberal Democrats and a fillip for the Greens. However, in Norfolk and Suffolk there were only two councils which changed hands. In North Norfolk the Lib Dems won a massive majority, while in Mid Suffolk the Conservatives lost the council to no overall control (NOC). In Essex, the Lib Dems unexpectedly took Chelmsford, Uttlesford saw the biggest swing against the Tories in the country, with independents seizing control, and the Tories lost Basildon, Southend and Tendring to NOC.
So what can we read into these results? The Lib Dems are trumpeting the fact that nationally they gained more than 700 councillors and took control of 10 councils. They have every reason to be cheerful. They are back. But why? They claim that this was a vote for the Lib Dem stance on remaining in the EU. I beg to differ. That may have been the case for a minority of voters, but the overwhelming trend in these local elections was that the electorate wanted to give the two main parties a bit of a kicking. If people wanted to achieve that, they would vote for anyone else on the ballot paper that wasn't a Conservative or a Labour candidate. In many areas the only other option was to vote Lib Dem. This is also why there were a dramatic resurgence of independent candidates, and why the Greens made big gains across the country, and indeed in East Anglia.
It was a dreadful night for the Conservatives, but it could have been worse. In Norfolk and Suffolk they were down 85 councillors, losing 19 in North Norfolk, 16 in King's Lynn & West Norfolk, 12 in West Suffolk and 11 in Broadland. Party campaigners should look to Great Yarmouth, which had the best result for the Conservatives, where they lost no councillors at all. There are lessons to be learned there. The Tories didn't lose any seats on Norwich City Council, either - because they didn't have any in the first place!
Labour had a net gain of only five councillors in Norfolk and Suffolk. Indeed, they were down four councillors each in both Norwich and East Suffolk. The only place where they made significant gains - if one can describe four as significant - was in Breckland.
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Independents were the biggest gainers in Norfolk and Suffolk, with a net increase of 37. Fourteen came directly from the Conservatives in King's Lynn & West Norfolk and 12 were in Wet Suffolk.
The Lib Dems also gained more than 30 seats, largely due to wresting North Norfolk from the Tories again. Otherwise their only significant result was in neighbouring Broadland, where they added eight councillors. Even in areas where they had previously flattered to deceive, like South Norfolk, they only managed to gain three councillors. In some councils in the region they still have no councillors at all.
Perhaps the most interesting result was that achieved by the Greens. Their biggest breakthrough came in the unlikely setting of Mid Suffolk, where they gained seven councillors. They added an extra four in Norwich, Baburgh and East Suffolk.
If these results were translated into a general election, the only MP who would lose her seat in Norfolk and Suffolk would be Chloe Smith in Norwich North, to Labour. With regards to how the European elections are likely to turn out, I doubt whether this set of local elections offer much of a pointer. The Lib Dems did very well in North Norfolk, but if the last few sets of European elections are anything to go by the Brexit Party will win big there, and I suspect all over the rural parts of Norfolk and Suffolk.
One thing is sure, though. The Conservatives are going to get the mother of all electoral pummellings on May 23. I wouldn't be at all surprised if nationally they fail to get even 15pc of the vote. I doubt whether even this limpet-like prime minister could survive such a humiliation.
Email Iain at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @iaindale