5 things we've learned from the 2019 UK local election results

GettyUK local elections 2019
  • Results for the local elections in England and Northern Ireland are coming in.
  • Early results suggest the Conservative party is being punished by voters.
  • But Labour is failing to benefit from the Tory collapse and is losing seats too.
  • The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are the big winners, gaining hundreds of seats nationwide.
  • Visit Business Insider’s home page for more stories.

LONDON – Results have been pouring in for the 2019 local elections in England and Northern Ireland.

The Conservatives have suffered heavy losses, with Labour also falling back as voters put a plague on both the main parties’ houses over their handling of Brexit.

Meanwhile smaller parties are making big gains, with both the Liberal Democrats and the Green party surging across the country.

Here are 5 things we’ve learned from the results:

Voters are punishing the Conservative government for Brexit

Theresa May local electionsGetty

Local elections are about expectation management and Conservative spinners have put out some deliberately over-the-top predictions in recent days about the party’s expected performance in these elections.

Senior Conservative figures were suggesting that the party could lose up as many as 1,000 council seats.

However, by any objective standard these are terrible results for Theresa May’s party, which are at least as bad as Gordon Brown experienced in the final years of the last Labour government, and could well end up being worse.

The party has lost major ground to the Liberal Democrats, and to a lesser extent Labour, with the party faring worst in areas where it has previously been strongest.

Anecdotally, Conservative activists have reported a terrible response on the doorstep, with both Leave and Remain voters furious over the government’s handling of Brexit and the overall chaotic state of May’s government.

Worryingly for the Tories, activists have reported that even some of its traditional, lifelong supporters have stayed at home this time around, in protest against the government’s failure to deliver Brexit on time.

As a result, renewed calls for May to resign have already begun, with former Cabinet minister Priti Patel taking to the airwaves to demand she steps down.

There are still lots more results to come in, with final results not expected until late on Friday afternoon.

However, with early results coming from areas where we would expect the Conservatives to do best, May’s party are on course for a truly dire set of results.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party is not benefiting from Tory collapse

Jeremy CorbynGetty

After nine years of a Conservative-led government and two years of Brexit-related political chaos, you would ordinarily expect the official opposition to be absolutely clearing up in a set of elections like these.

Instead, Labour has actually lost seats so far in both Leave and Remain-voting areas, with the lion’s share of the protest vote going to smaller parties. Overall the party appears to be doing better in southern England than northern England. However, even in the South the party has made losses as voters switch to parties with a clearer anti-Brexit position than Labour has been willing to offer.

The nature of where early results have come from in the country means that Labour’s overall performance will likely improve as the day goes on. If current trends continue they will probably end up with a modest lead nationally. However, there is no doubt that these are a very disappointing set of results for the Labour Party and are nowhere near as good as we should expect for a party at this stage in the electoral cycle.

For many in Labour, this will mean a change in position on Brexit is essential.

The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted this morning: “so far message from local elections- “Brexit – sort it.” Message received,” suggesting the party could become more open to doing a deal with May on Brexit.

Asked about the tweet, a senior Labour source told Business Insider: “There are no doubts at all from people campaigning all over country, Remain and Leave voters, that they are fed up with the current situation on Brexit.”

The Liberal Democrats are back

Liberal Democrats Vince CableGetty

The last time these set of seats were fought was in 2015 at the end of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. Back then voters furious with the Lib Dems’ role in that government, punished the party hard at both a local and national level. As a result today’s elections were always going to have a relatively positive outcome for Sir Vince Cable’s party.

However, early results suggest that the Lib Dems have well exceeded even the most optimistic predictions for their performance, with the party already picking up hundreds of seats in both Conservative and Labour areas. The party’s clear anti-Brexit message appears to be winning over Remain-voting Labour voters across the country, while both Leave and Remain-leaning Tory voters also appear to be switching to them as a protest vote against the government.

One of the party’s biggest successes has been in Chelmsford, southeast England, where it gained 29 seats to take the council from the Conservatives.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran told Business Insider: “These results are spectacular. I’m told the best since 2003 and the night isn’t over yet. Without a doubt, the Lib Dems are back!”

Leader Cable has committed to standing down later this month after what has widely been perceived as a disappointing time as leader of his party. Today’s results could well cause him to regret that decision.

Voters are going Green

Green PartyGetty

Possibly the biggest surprise in these results is the stellar performance of the Green Party, which has made serious gains in Remain-voting areas against both Labour and the Conservatives. Like the Liberal Democrats, they appear to be benefiting from voter dissatisfaction with both the major parties and have recovered their traditional role as a leading recipient of protest votes.

Recent events, which have been dominated by the “Extinction Rebellion” climate change protests across the country and calls for the declaration of a “climate emergency” have also almost certainly helped the party pick up seats.

We are heading for a minority Labour government

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa MayGetty

Today’s results suggest that Corbyn’s party is not on course to win a majority at the next election. If Labour cannot make big gains in elections like these, with a government so visibly tearing itself apart over Brexit, then it is unlikely to be able to make sufficient gains at a general election in order to govern outright.

However, while the results are bad for Labour, they are truly terrible for the Conservatives. Theresa May’s party has lost ground across the country in both Leave and Remain-voting areas, with activists reporting that the party’s previously most reliable voters are deserting them.

And while the results are very bad for May, they could have been much worse. With Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party not standing in these elections and the UK Independence Party also failing to stand in large numbers of seats, the national picture is almost certainly significantly worse for May’s party than the final vote tally will suggest.

Add to that the resurgence of the Liberal Democrats, whose target seats are overwhelmingly in Conservative areas, and the picture for May’s party looks particularly bleak.

And with May’s party only hanging onto power as it is through a fragile pact with the Democratic Unionist Party, it is now overwhelmingly likely that the Conservative government will lose their grip on that power, whether the next general election is held later this year or in 2022.

That means the most likely outcome at the next general election is either a minority Labour administration, or a full on coalition government between Corbyn’s party and the Scottish Nationalists or the Lib Dems. Whichever way you cut it, a Labour government – most likely led by Corbyn – is now the likely outcome at the next election.

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