The surreal 2019 local election results
Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow
The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn't reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.
They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.
The comparison with 2015 - the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.
So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.
However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.
The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.
The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.
When you get down to the detail you find Labour's performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.
The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.
Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a " massive protest " over the party's attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true - as other big losses were in Leave areas - but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying " Anybody but Labour" by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.
Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn't. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron's doorstep.
And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn't existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, 16 gains in Thanet - last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn't been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council - both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.
The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.
The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).
What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds - whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.
Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide to the future.
We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.