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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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