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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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.