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May 7, 2011

Round one: Local elections: Cameron 1-0 Miliband.

The Lib Dems were always going to suffer hugely in Thursday’s elections, and their demise is neither a surprise nor particularly newsworthy. I do, actually, feel sorry for them – they took a brave, selfless decision to enter coalition with the Tories, and it is sad that their compromise in the national interest has been so roundly punished. That said, as I’ve suggested before, I think much of the apparent hatred towards the party is of their own making. To promise – pledge, even – that they would scrap university tuition fees, was a cheap bit of electioneering from a party that never expected to be given the power to implement their unaffordable policies. They shouldn’t be criticised for reneging on their pledge; they should be criticised for making the pledge in the first place.

Anyway, the bigger story, in my opinion, is the battle between the Tories and Labour. Even in my most optimistic state, I expected the Tories to lose around 500 council seats in England. I’d have been happy with losses of only 300, I’d have been concerned at losses of 700. Instead, with 270 of 279 councils having now declared, the Tories have gained 81 seats. It’s hard to explain to people, who perhaps have less of a geeky interest in such things, how incredible that is. These seats were last fought in 2007, just a month before the end of Tony Blair’s increasingly unpopular premiership, and with David Cameron still riding high in the polls just 18 months after becoming leader. Compare that to now, with the Tories having spent a year implementing a massive and often unpopular cuts programme. Tuition fees are trebling, large numbers of public sector jobs are at risk, unemployment is high, the NHS is being completely reshaped, EMA is getting cut, benefits are being slashed, even the forests have been threatened…I could go on…yet the Tories have made gains, not losses.

When you then look over to Wales, an area that has traditionally resented Tory governments (remember we didn’t win a single seat there in the 1997 general election), and see that we gained two Welsh Assembly members, you start to realise that it was a quite excellent set of results for the Tories and David Cameron.

For Labour, by contrast, it was a strange outcome. They did make big gains in England, yet not as many as people had expected – they’ve gained around 800 seats, yet most were expecting gains of around 1,200. They failed to win the expected majority in Wales, and were completely destroyed by the SNP in Scotland (to the extent that we can now expect a referendum on Scotland’s independence in the next four years). Even Kevin Maguire, editor of the Daily Mirror and Labour cheerleader, said that Ed Miliband had done “OK-ish”. One imagines that a similarly disappointing result in next year’s elections would prompt calls for him to be replaced.

So round one of the Cameron-Miliband battle saw a decisive victory for the Tory leader. Round two, of course, was the AV referendum, which I’ll cover separately in the next post.

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