In the hours which followed the recent local elections, the pattern of the political responses was typical.
Labour tried to hype up its addition of 290 seats, claiming it was down to a dis-satisfied public fed up with the state of the economy. However, another reading of that would be to point out if the public are fed up with the economy (and why wouldn’t they be), they aren’t turning to Labour in the sorts of numbers it can use to say it has convinced the public it has an alternative.
Oh, Labour reply, you’re being unfair – these elections were mainly in Tory heartlands, so we were never going to do *that* well.
The Tories, having been expected to do much worse than the 335 seats, and 10 councils they lost control of, pointed to Labour’s unspectacular performance, but also dashed to promise those who voted UKIP that it would listen to their protest vote. But how can they be sure of what people were protesting about? Two people I know voted UKIP to protest at the level of VAT in this country – I’m not entirely convinced that particular protest will register.
And then UKIP. No denying they performed very well, and depending on which interview involving Nigel Farage you listened to, you’ll get a different view on why they did so well. It’s because the Tories insulted his party. It’s because people are fed up of the political classes. It’s because the main parties have no connection with reality. It’s because of Europe. It’s became of the economy. And so on and so on.
Finally, the Lib Dems. Down 124 councillors – 24% – not great, but not the wipeout predicted. And it’s from the much-maligned party in yellow that I think the most sensible assessment of the local elections emerged.
This is the party which came seventh in the parliamentary by-election in South Shields. You can argue that particular aspect of the result many ways: What impact did the independent candidate have? Did Lib Dem voters stay away? Who went to UKIP? But Tim Farron, the Lib Dem Party president, delivered perhaps the most salient piece of political advice I’ve heard in a long time.