ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan rounds up the results of a disappointing election for the Conservatives
At a meeting of Conservative special advisers yesterday afternoon, the group agreed that while the local election results were bad, given the headlines of recent months spanning partygate and the cost-of-living crisis, they could have been worse.
“The sky hasn’t fallen in,” said one.
And it is true the outcome is not at catastrophic levels for Boris Johnson – and even if it was - local elections don't map straight onto general elections (look at 2019 for example) as people focus more on local issues, deliver protest votes and are more likely to opt for smaller parties.
But they are the best clue we get to how parties are performing and as day turned into night yesterday, it became increasingly clear that this was a very bad set of results for the prime minister - and for several reasons.
1. Let’s start with London
In the run up to this election, despite the chat about Wandsworth falling to Labour, staff in both Labour and the Tories told me they didn’t really believe it would happen. So, to lose not only Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council - Wandsworth (after more than four decades of Tory control) but also Westminster and Barnet was pretty crushing for Conservatives in the capital.
It is true, they took Harrow, but the overriding trend was negative in the capital.
In terms of a general election, while all the parliamentary constituencies in Wandsworth had already switched to Labour, there are Tory MPs in Westminster and Barnet. One said that these results didn’t automatically mean they will lose their seats – but argued it would be an uphill battle for some of them to hang on.
As one Tory MP there said to me – "the leadership needs to take a long, hard look at its offer to voters in the capital”.
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2. The south coast
The other notable shift towards Labour in the South came in coastal areas as the party took control of Southampton but also Worthing council. On the latter, that's a massive change in a short period. Before 2018, Labour didn't have a single councillor there, and now it has a majority. And in terms of a general election, Labour has been eyeing Worthing and Shoreham-By-Sea for some time.
The Tories would argue that it's quite a unique seat - with younger, more liberal voters heading over from Brighton, but it will be a worrying trend, and especially if it spreads to other parts of the coast with similar demographic trends.
3. The Blue Wall
But beyond Worthing comes the blue wall - the shires that have consistently backed Conservatives. Many were not up but the most striking example yesterday was Somerset. A new unitary authority there - combining the county and district councils - delivered a massive win for the Lib Dems who won over 60 seats and a solid majority.
Now it's true that the Lib Dems have had a presence in the county for some time, but in 2019 it delivered five Tory MPs. Now there is every chance that doesn't - in turn - lead to Lib Dem wins in parliamentary seats but it's clearly a risk and one local MPs are worrying about.
March Fysh, the MP for Yeovil, said to me: "It's really disappointing and it is terrible because it breaks the blue link between local and national government. This council won’t be well managed.
"I’ve listened to people on cost of living and personally I think the government needs to be doing things other than what we are."
He suggested a cabinet overhaul was needed, saying he would also to talk to colleagues about Johnson’s position.
"I do not think the current team is capable of delivering a successful economic policy for the country. The current set up isn’t working and it needs to be changed. I’ve been trying to speak to the PM for three years. I will be speaking to colleagues about what needs to happen," he said.
Now if the Lib Dems were to get MPs here - that would help Labour by reducing the electoral mountain it has to climb. But ultimately there is another region that Keir Starmer has to focus on if he ever wants to be prime minister.
4. The Red Wall
Here - in northern England, the Midlands and parts of Wales - the Tories need to hang on to a significant chunk of their massive 2019 gains to stay on top, while Labour need to make a significant recovery to have any chance.
The results here were mixed. Tory MPs in Cumberland, and Rossendale, and in Bury will be feeling worried after big wins for Labour. One Cumbrian MP described the Cumberland result to me as a “bloodbath”.
That worry will also be felt by some in areas like Wolverhampton - where Labour appeared to stand totally still in the council vote. However, because the seats were last up in 2018 - when on vote share Labour did well and was neck and neck with the Tories - the result still means significant progress on Labour's 2019 devastating election loss. So much so that Labour (and ITV News election analyst Colin Rallings accepted this) they'd probably win back a key seat there - Wolverhampton North East.
That's important because unlike seats in Bury - for example - with tiny majorities - that Colin described to me as being the mere foothills of Labour's electoral mountain, Wolverhampton NE's majority of more than 4,000 would only go with a 6% swing to Labour. And if that's replicated at a national level then Labour would be almost tying with the Tories.
That is modest progress but not a huge shift. Overall Colin felt the picture looked like Labour forcing a hung Parliament, but nowhere near a majority.
5. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
It wasn't a great night for Johnson in Scotland either where his party fell to third place behind Labour. Overall it was a good result for the SNP but Labour will be cheered with a slight recovery. And in Wales the Tories lost their only council - Monmouthshire. And meanwhile, Northern Ireland is obviously not relevant for the Conservatives in terms councillors, but an expected victory for the nationalist party - Sinn Fein - is quite something and could cause a real challenge for Johnson's government who already appear to have dropped plans for legislation that would allow them to step back from the protocol.
The Conservatives certainly won't say these results are disastrous. After all - despite the battering they've taken on partygate and cost of living - they don't translate into a Labour majority. And it is mid terms, and local elections can be unusual. Moreover, Starmer is now facing his own partygate headache.
All in all, the vote share estimates and loss in seats don't look good for the Conservatives - they look worse than expected. But they are probably not good enough for Labour yet either.