A very bad night for the Tories

The blame game begins as the Tories lose hundreds of seats.

"A tough night" was what Conservative chairman Sayeeda Warsi predicted for her party. And so it proved. With 98 of 181 councils declared, the Tories have lost 278 seats, while Labour has gained 461 and is on course to win hundreds more - its best local election result since 1997. The results are equivalent to Labour having 39 per cent of the national vote, with the Tories on 31 per cent and the Lib Dems on 16 per cent, figures that, if replicated at a general election, would see Ed Miliband comfortably ensconced in Downing Street. To the key question of the night - has Labour done well enough? - the answer is yes. There was disappointment in Bradford, where George Galloway's Respect won five seats, including one from its Labour leader, and more could follow in Glasgow, where the SNP is hoping to win overall control of the council. But the results will, for now, settle the doubts over Miliband's leadership.

Already, Conservative MPs have rushed to offer their own idiosyncratic explanations for the Tories' defeat. Gerald Howarth, a defence minister, has blamed David Cameron's support for gay marriage, Bernard Jenkin has said House of Lords reform needs to go, Martin Vickers has cited the decision to cut the 50p tax rate (rather than fuel duty), while Gary Streeter, a noted moderate, has said Cameron needs to be tougher on crime to halt the Ukip surge. Expect the blame game to continue across the weekend.

In many ways, however, the real story of the night was the disastrously low turnout. At just 32 per cent, it was the lowest figure since 2000, confirming the alienation many voters feel from the entire political class. The anti-politics mood is one explanation for the resounding rejection of directly-elected city mayors. The voters simply don't want more politicians. Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry have all voted against having a mayor, while Birmingham appears to have done the same. Cameron's call for "a Boris in every city" has fallen on deaf ears.

The aforementioned Boris should provide the Tories with something to celebrate when the London mayoral election results are announced this evening but that won't stop Conservative MPs using this as an opportunity to air the greivances that have mounted over the last few weeks. In today's Times (£), ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie suggests the party could be rediscovering its taste for regicide. Unless Cameron finds an "election game-changer", he writes, "the party might very reluctantly reach for the blond-coloured nuclear button". Boris's re-election will be seen as proof that Conservatives can win if they refuse to compromise and make an unashamedly right-of-centre pitch. The next 48 hours could be very uncomfortable for Cameron.

Cameron's party has lost hundreds of seats. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.