An effigy of Margaret Thatcher in Trafalgar Square. Photo: Getty
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Laurie Penny on Thatcher: What we talk about when we talk about Margaret Thatcher

The left have been painted as tasteless, heartless people trying to make political capital out of Thatcher’s death. Only the government is allowed to do that, says Laurie Penny.

To celebrate the death of another human being is always abhorrent. Whether or not it is also appropriate is a question of context. On the night that Margaret Thatcher suffered a fatal stroke, hundreds of people gathered in Brixton for a death disco. Some of them drank champagne and some drank milk.

"Now that Thatcher's dead, we thought we'd start reversing her policies one by one - so we're starting with free milk handouts," said Sky, a student giving out quarter-pints of semi-skimmed from a shopping bag, who must have been born after Thatcher gained her "Milk Snatcher" moniker. "It's my parents' grudge, really," Sky admitted. "But looking at the world we're living in now, I understand that a lot of it evolved from her policies."
 
Nine days ago, Margaret Thatcher died in a suite at the Ritz and the country lost its wits. Her political legacy lives on and it's that legacy that is really being debated in the escalating frenzy around who gets control of the funeral narrative. This isn't about Thatcher. It never really was: not the parties, not the screeching pundits, not the ludicrous battle to get the song 'Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead. Actually, it's about us. It's about Britain and about the battle for control of the national narrative. Thatcher's death has become the occasion for a grand psychodrama of a vicious and divided nation.
 
Make no mistake: the funeral taking place today is a political statement. A ceremonial funeral of this kind, attended by the Queen, is a specific British state honour that has only been given to one other non-royal in recent history - Winston Churchill, who led a united war cabinet. Respect for the dead is one thing, but demanding acquiescence in the face of an enormous, costly political statement is quite another.
 
Britain has been waiting for this for a long, long time. The major news outlets and commentators on the left and right were so quick to publish pieces variously condemning, praising or condemning the praise of Thatcher's legacy that you might almost suspect that they had these articles in stock and were just waiting to fill in the dates. You might even suspect that the reaction to Thatcher's death had been entirely pre-scripted.
 
It has all been choreographed for years, the tributes already written, the formalities in place. All of the responses were planned, as were the responses to those responses. I was told, before writing this piece, to keep my head down and say nothing inflammatory, because the right wing would certainly seize on anything that any prominent left-wing person said for their pre-scripted invectives against tasteless, heartless people trying to make political capital out of Thatcher's death. Only the government is allowed to do that.
 
While we're on the subject of tastelessness, some bright spark decided that Thatcher's funeral should have a "Falklands war theme". Yes, that Falklands war, the one that Warren Ellis succinctly called "the most shameless, vote-grabbing, artificial war scam in 50 years".
 
The hundreds of Argentinian sailors who died on Thatcher's orders as the Belgrano was retreating will not be represented, but there will be full military honours and a "ring of steel" in place to prevent "troublemakers" lifting a single placard. Thatcher will be buried as a war hero, just like Churchill was, even though the Falklands conflict was, in territorial and strategic terms, a mere blip on the radar of history. The war of which Thatcher was the hero was quite a different war, a war whose territory was hearts, minds and markets, a war waged against social democracy, labour rights and the idea of the commons. It is this war whose general is being buried today.
 
The Conservatives' attempt to enforce a national day of mourning for their former leader was announced so far in advance of the key event as to be macabre but at least half of the public aren't buying it. The latest ComRes poll shows that over 60 per cent of the British public believe that the funeral should not be paid for out of state funds. That, however, is part of the point. We're not meant to like it. We're meant to accept it. That's what a victory parade is form and this funeral is a victory parade, a political statement paid for at public expense with military guns blazing and the Iron Lady's corpse right up there in front of the band.
 
The London Evening Standard reports that "Blanket stop-and-search powers are expected to be introduced . . . with officers using powers of pre-emptive arrest to target known troublemakers." In this case, "troublemakers" includes anyone who dares to raise their voice or a banner without prior permission. Dawn raids are planned on locations where suspected protesters might be sleeping on the day of the funeral, just as they were on the day of the royal wedding in 2011, when squats and anarchist centres across the city were invaded by cops with cuffs and batons. Surveillance, pre-arrests and police brutality: that's the order of the day in post-Thatcherite Britain.
 
 ***
 
At the Brixton death party, the usual angry radicals were joined by older people with tired smiles and sensible overcoats, young punks and activists handing out beer and their parents' grudges, and local kids and drunks who saw a gathering and just turned up. The local MP, Chuka Umunna, tweeted
that those who gathered to tramp down the dirt had nothing to do with the area but even he didn't sound convinced. Brixton rioted several times during Thatcher's reign and was one of the impoverished urban areas that her government was talking about when it advocated a policy of "managed decline". Translation: leave them to rot. This was the same government that placed the cold logic of personal greed at the heart of our national conscience, with the infamous mantra: "There's no such thing as
society. There are only individuals and their families." 
 
Now that Britain as a whole is in a state of mismanaged decline, most people here no longer talk openly about class. We talk, instead, about whether or not we hated Margaret Thatcher and wished her dead. That hasn't just been going on for a week but for 30 years, since Thatcher vanquished the industrial working class in the 1980s. Make no mistake: Thatcher-hatred isn't confined to the intermittently organised left. It's a folk memory thing, a tribal thing, passed down from parents to children in places where jobs in mines and steelworks and factories used to be passed down instead. The chant at the Brixton party lacked subtlety, but it at least got to the point:
 
 "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Dead, dead, dead!"
 
You will understand a lot more about Britain when you understand that across the country, perfectly normal families - families in Norwich and Newcastle and the Rhondda Valley, who eat cornflakes in the morning and go, in their unfussy British way, to church - have had money and booze put aside for decades for a party on the occasion of the death of one frail, old lady. This particular frail, old lady, of course, happened to be the figurehead and instigator of an aggressive neoliberalism that destroyed
their communities, ruined lives and drove millions into poverty and despair, as well as making a few people very rich indeed. The right-wing tabloids rushed to the street party in Brixton, as well as to Glasgow and Bristol, to fill in the blanks on the "despicable leftists" pieces they'd had on file for years. But those weren't the only celebrations going on.
 
In private homes and tiny, former-industrial towns where the press never goes unless there's been a murder, the pubs were full. Bed sheets with "The witch is dead" hastily scrawled on them were hung from windows.
 
"This isn't a celebration. It's catharsis," said the author Rhian Jones, who grew up in Thatcherism's Ground Zero - Tredegar, Wales, in the middle of the miners' strike that was the battlefield on which Thatcher took on organised labour and won, crushing the unions and the spirit of the British working class in one manicured fist. "We've heard a lot about Thatcher's legacy for the children who grew up in the 1980s," said Jones. "Part of her legacy to me was a family and a community who were completely devastated and are still trying to recover from that devastation."
 
By 9pm in Brixton, most of the cameras that gathered to take pictures of the left in its predicted grotesquery had vanished and everyone was hammered. At least two speaker systems ground out a bass-heavy mix of reggae and retro punk as kids who were born after Thatcher left office whooped and hollered and a banner reading "The bitch is dead" dropped from the roof of the Ritzy. This victory was always going to be a pyrrhic one and the people here were determined to warm their faces by the fire as it died. A solitary trombone played low and mournfully over the grinding reggae.
 
And still the party swelled. They had come to Brixton from Durham and Belfast and every wasted inner-city and former industrial town where today's young adults grew up being told that, whatever else they were doing, they would bloody well have a shindig when Maggie died. There were also a few confused foreigners trying to get into the spirit of Thatcher-hate, rather as one might try milky tea and Marmite: you might enjoy it but you'll never really understand it, unless you're from Argentina. The Ritzy Cinema across the road was advertising an Argentine film festival but, as the night continued, the decision was taken that this was too subtle. Kids in hoods leaped on to the awning, removed the letters advertising that day's showing and rearranged them into the words: "MARGRET THATCHERS DEAD".
 
There was an enormous cheer. There was also some consternation. Other hooded figures climbed up and fixed the spelling, so that it read: "MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD". The hoods and masks might have been a little excessive but, on the other hand, one never really knows any more what is and is not illegal when it comes to the merest squeak of indecorous behaviour on the streets of London.
 
After some more discussion, this became: "MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD. LOL". And then, five minutes later: "MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD, COMMUNISM IS THE KEY". There followed a pause for sectarian debate up on the ledge, while the police officers in attendance stared up, confused, and the wording changed again, this time to: "EQUALITY IS THE KEY". The argument heated up, aided by some chanting and booing by more radicalised sections of the crowd below, and eventually a compromise was reached. "MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD - COMMUNITEY [sic] IS THE KEY".
 
Some things don't change in this country and one of them is the way the far left chooses the opportune moment to make itself look like a Monty Python sketch.
 
Celebrating Thatcher's death in this way is not tasteless. It is in bad taste, which is something quite different, and deliberately so. The taste it leaves in the mouth is bitter; it's the taste of history repeating like bile from a bad meal in the back of the throat.
 
"I'm not here to celebrate the death of an old woman," said Seaneen Molloy, 27. "I'm here to be around people who hate Thatcherism and everything it stands for. Thatcherism is alive and kicking in Britain today."
 
And it's not as if there's much else to celebrate right now. "Everyone's really fucking depressed," says Molloy. "Everyone's miserable. Everyone's being brutalised. What can we say? There is nothing hopeful happening in Britain, nothing. Come, come, friendly bombs!"
 
The chanting starts up again, an echo ringing across 30 years of rage and defeat: "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Dead, dead, dead!"
 
"We're all going straight to hell," says Molloy, taking a swig of lager.
 
There's more than one road to hell. It is bitterly appropriate that Thatcher died in the month that the current Conservative-led government finished what she started. In the name of an austerity project that is driving the British economy into the dirt - our credit rating has been downgraded, unemployment has soared and we're staring down the barrel of a triple-dip recession - David Cameron's cabinet has completed the largest project of redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in centuries.
 
The bill for the transfer can be itemised: the cost of the removal of Disability Living Allowance and of the bedroom tax that will cut the incomes of 660,000 families to starvation level has been spent on a new
lower tax bill for the top bracket of earners. Let's not dignify this with the term "austerity": this is a mugging, pure and simple, and like any mugging, protest alone rarely does any good and fighting back can be dangerous. This funeral, with its pomp and fuss and expense, feels like a well-timed spit in the eye.
 
If the Tories wanted to troll the working class, they could have made a lot less trouble for themselves. While the police trawl Twitter for anyone talking about effigies and pocket lighters, the Tories are planning to march in procession over the open grave of the British labour movement before the earth has even had time to settle. Thatcher, who loved a bit of kitsch, would have approved.
 
Both sides have oversimplified, because that's how tribal politics works. The right, with its smug condemnation of everyone not showing the proper respect for a deceased statesperson, is also guilty of a particular needling hypocrisy that becomes clear as soon as you google what British columnists had to say about the death of Hugo Chávez a month ago. There's also a large and largely silent chunk of the British population who see no reason to celebrate anything, who just want to let the Tories bury their monster without being obliged to join in the victory rut and get back to surviving in the seventh richest country in the world, where youth unemployment is over 20 per cent, one in three children live in poverty, and history repeats itself like a half-digested shit sandwich.
 
What began as a strained debate over the legacy of one woman has become an all-out war for the recent history of the nation, a history that is not being rewritten so much as scratched out and re-scribbled like an argument on a toilet wall, an angry mess of four-letter words and crude cartoons.
 
It's all just a little bit gross. The funeral celebrations are gross and the headlines are gross and the death parties are gross, though they at least have been refreshingly free of the hypocrisy that Thatcher so loathed. The Conservative Party that is now wetting itself over Thatcher's legacy includes some of the same Tories who betrayed her and forced her out of office in 1990. Their love for their "Boadicea in pearls" - I quote the Telegraph's truly grisly Thursday-morning headline - was never honest and was never truly for her.
 
What the Tories loved about Thatcher was what she represented, her status as a totem figure. They loved that they could wheel her out at events to rally the troops behind aggressive financial capitalism. Her infirmity, her growing senility, was even more convenient: her presence could be invoked without the possibility of her saying anything relevant and, if anyone complained, they were heartless, craven communists attacking a defenceless old woman. Do not be fooled by the buttoned-up exterior, the pretensions of dignity. There is a pent-up nastiness at the heart of British society that comes out chiefly when we drink, which we do a lot, and not just at street parties.
 
The story of Margaret Thatcher and what she meant to the people of Britain will not be written with an objective eye for many generations. The pain is too raw, the crowing too callous. But this funeral, the death parties, the global freak-out over the proper form of mourning, the demure calls for respect that got swallowed because the triumphant right-wing just couldn't resist a chance to strut its smug stuff and show its weapons - that's a story about a bitter, divided nation that needs to be told.
 
In telling even a tiny part of it, I find myself afraid for the country I was born in. It's becoming a colder, meaner, harder place. Margaret Thatcher was wrong: there is such a thing as society, and it's bloody annoyed, bitter and desperate and dancing on the grave of a broken old  tyrant because there's nothing else to dance about. And you can't help suspecting that that's just what Maggie would have wanted.

 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

Photo: Getty
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The New Statesman 2016 local and devolved elections liveblog

Results and analysis from elections across the United Kingdom. 

Welcome to the New Statesman's elections liveblog. Results will be coming in from the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales, local elections in England, and the mayoral contests in London, Salford, Bristol and Liverpool. Hit refresh for updates!

05:45: Scratch that, by no means the first. I know nothing. 

05:41: Two Conservative MSPs, Adam Tomkins and Annie Wells, have been elected on the list in Glasgow. The first Tory politicians elected out of Glasgow since 1979, I believe. Labour have held Llaneli, in a big blow to Plaid Cymru. 

05:40: The Conservatives have retained Castle Point and St Albans. Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, is on air, warning that the party is not on "a path to power". 

05:21: As it stands.

In England, Labour have won 761 councilors, a net loss of 28. The Conservatives have picked up six councillors overall, winning 440 in total. The Liberal Democrats have netted 167 councilors, a net gain of 10 councillors. Ukip have gained 20 councilors, picking up 28 in total. 

In Scotland, with 67 seats declared, the SNP have 54 seats, a gain of six seats. The Conservatives have six seats, a gain of four. The Liberal Democrats have four seats, picking up two. Labour have lost 12 seats, and have three seats. The SNP looks likely to secure the 65 seats necessary for a majority once the list vote is counted but they could fall a little short.

In Wales, with 28 seats declared, Labour has 18 seats, and have lost one. Plaid Cymru have six seats, a net gain of one. The Conservatives have held three seats, and made no gains or losses. The Liberal Democrats have held one seat and made no gains or losses.

05:13: Labour have hold onto Derby with their majority slashed to one. 

05:07: Welsh Labour, as you can imagine, are shellshocked at that result. But they think that the effort Plaid Cymru put in turning out that result has contributed to their likely third place - Labour expect to see them off elsewhere. But crucially, it is a phenomenal victory that has kept Leanne Wood in her job. 

05:02: Blimey, Leanne Wood has defeated Leighton Andrews, a (former) Labour Cabinet minister in the Rhondda, turning a Labour majority of 6,000 in 2011 to a Plaid Cymru one of over 3,000. 

04:57: At time of writing, Labour has lost ground in England, Wales and Scotland. But just as the party proved more resilient in bunkering down against David Cameron in 2010, they've done a great job of defending councils tonight. Labour's machine, turns out, is much better at defensive campaigns - see 2010 and 2016 - than offensive ones - see 2015. Just a half-formed thought. I'm quite tired. 

04:56: Nicola Sturgeon has been re-elected in Glasgow Southside.

04:53: In Liverpool, Joe Anderson has been re-elected Mayor of Liverpool with 52 per cent of the vote. 

04:48: Labour have held Norwich, making gains at the expense of the Greens. They have kept control of Wakefield, too. 

04:47: Labour have held Dumbarton by just 100 votes. 

04:44: Scratch that. Labour have two seats. They've just won Edinburgh Southern from the SNP. 

04:40: The scores on the doors across the country.

In England, Labour have won 727 seats, a net loss of 29. The Conservatives have gained seven seats, winning 425 overall. The Liberal Democrats have won 166 seats, gaining 10 seats. Ukip are up 20 seats to 28 seats. Labour are holding on to power in individual councils but losing councilors.  

In Wales, after 22 seats have been counted, Labour have 16 seats, Plaid Cymru have 3, the Conservatives have 2 and the Liberal Democrats have one. No seats have changed hands - yet. Labour are on course to remain in power and may well get the 28 seats (they need 31 for a majority of one) to form an effective minority administration.

In Scotland, with 27 seats declared, the SNP are on 21 seats, having gained two overall, the Liberal Democrats are on three seats having gained one, the Conservatives are on two seats having gained one, while Labour have won seat having lost four overall. The Conservatives are on course to finish second. 

04:34: Peter Hain is on air saying that these results aren't good enough at this stage in the cycle. Historically and psephologically, he's right, but the Corbyn bench should surely be deep enough that this isn't happening. Where's my own MP, Diane Abbott? Or Cat Smith, Clive Lewis, Kate Osamor, etc? 

04:30: Blimey. Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams has just won re-election in Brecon & Radnorshire with a margin of victory that Vladimir Putin would consider excessive. 

04:26: I keep meaning to do a scores on the doors but too much stuff is happening, apologies. The Scottish Conservatives have won Aberdeenshire West from the SNP. 

04:21: Ruth Davidson has won in Edinburgh Central. She will not need to enter Holyrood through the list system, she is the first Tory leader in Scotland not to need the list since 2005 - and she will surely be the first to serve as official leader of the Opposition. 

04:16: In Edinburgh Eastern, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has failed in her bid to unseat the SNP's candidate, Ash Denham. She'll be back on the list system. 

04:12: Stasis seems to be the word of the day in Wales. Ukip have gained seats (remember they weren't really a thing when the Assembly was last fought in 2011) but have produced a carbon-copy of their 2015 performance. The Conservatives look likely to stay in second place, while Labour look well-placed to keep on keeping on as a minority administration. 

04:11: People are asking me what the swing to Labour in Ogmore is. It's zero. Exact stasis. 

04:08: Labour have held Exeter

04:05: The SNP have lost Edinburgh Western to the Liberal Democrats. 

04:00: For those of you just joining us. In Scotland, the SNP will not get a majority in Holyrood through theconstituency elections, it appears. They look likely to get one through the party list but that is by no means certain. However, they are on course to get close to 50 per cent of the vote. Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives are in a bare-knuckle fight for second place, with the Tories the favourites. One minister has texted to tell me they are "certain" Ruth Davidson has got them second.

In England, Labour is losing councillors overall but is holding ground in terms of controlling councils - and is making gains in some by-elections. A murky picture.

In Wales, Labour is on course to remain the largest party with a slightly smaller number of seats. An open question has to what deal they will end up striking to remain in power there.  

03:53: Direct projections from local elections to national are tricky things, as the incumbent always recovers (presumably a section of the electorate thinks "Hey, they haven't killed us yet!"). Projections from the final set of locals from the 1992-7 parliament put the Tories under 100, projections from the final set before 2010 put Labour in third place. That said, they are fun: 

03:52: Labour has lost Edinburgh Northern and Leith to the SNP. 

03:47: A rare changing of the guard in a night of stasis in England - Dudley goes from Labour-run to No Overall Control, though Labour remains the largest party. 

03:43: Biggest losers so far: Scottish Labour and the Welsh Conservatives, who appear to have gone backwards.  

03:41: Hearing the Conservatives have won Dumfriesshire from the SNP. 

03:36: It's been a bad year for Brown's heirs. We've had Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander lose her seat, Yvette Cooper get crushed by Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband repudiated by the voters. Would make a good play. 

03:31: One I missed. Alex Rowley, Gordon Brown's old constituency manager and protégé, has lost his seat in Cowdenbeath, though he is likely to return to Holyrood thanks to the list vote. 

03:30: Golly Ms Molly! Iain Gray has survived in East Lothian - the SNPmageddon isn't quite what we forecast. In Wales, we have just four results in - and Labour has won them all. 

03:27: "That ain't gonna happen," says John Mann of a coup against Corbyn. Probably the most important thing you'll hear tonight. 

03:25: Blimey! The Liberal Democrats have won Fife North East from the SNP - its boundaries largely that of Ming Campbel''s old seat. 

03:19: Labour have held the marginal seat of Southampton

03:18: You can't keep the Bradshaw machine down. Labour has made gains in Exeter and will keep control. 

03:15: In Scotland, the average Labour to Conservative swing is 10 points. 

03:10: The Conservatives have held Ayr. The SNP look likely to get a majority but the possibility of an SNP-Green deal looks entirely plausible. 

03:00: For those of you just joining us. In England, Labour have won 527 councilors, a net loss of 26. The Conservatives have won 292 seats, a net gain of eight seats. The Liberal Democrats have won 105 seats, a net gain of five seats. Ukip have won 23 seats, a net gain of 17. The Greens are up one and have won five seats. Labour have won two Westminster by-elections in Sheffield Brightside and Ogmore. In Wales, Labour remains the largest party but whether they will govern alone or in coalition remains to be decided. In Scotland, the SNP are on course to romp home with around 50 per cent of the vote. The Conservatives and Labour are in a dogfight for second place. 

02:50: Labour have held Crawley, with an increased majority. 

02:45: The Liberal Democrats have won every seat that is up for election in Southport

02:42: Been remarkably little movement of council control so far tonight. Considerable churn in terms of losses here and gains there, but just one council has changed hands - Stockport, which is now Labour-dominated having been Liberal Democrat run. In Worcester, the Conservatives have lost their majority. 

02:40: Labour are upbeat in Crawley

02:38: Labour have gained a seat from the Greens in Norwich and there may be more gains to come tonight. Local sources are fairly positive. 

02:35: What we know so far: In England, Labour is having a better night than the early results suggested, though they are losing votes. Outside of Scotland, Ukip are up most everywhere but are doing particularly well in Wales. In Scotland, the SNP are picking up seats and the Conservatives look on course for second. 

02:34: The government's not changing in Scotland, but it looks highly likely we will get a new opposition - the Conservatives are heading for second if this swing keeps up. 

02:29: Now we're cooking with charcoal! Labour have lost Eastwood - the home of Scotland's largest (slash only) Jewish community - to the Conservatives. There is a real Livingstone effect in the Jewish community tonight - and it could yet hand Sadiq Khan a shock defeat in London if low turnout makes the result closer overall. 

02:26: Just a historical note on Sheffield Brightside. The party's vote share is up 5.8% there. It was up 7.3% in Oldham West. Later tonight we'll get Ogmore in, so we'll have the first three by-elections of the Corbyn era. In the first three of Ed Miliband's, all of which occured in 2011, Labour were up 10 points in their first three by-election holds. If there's a lull later I'll take a look at Cameron, IDS, Hague, Blair, etc. 

02:19: The Liberal Democrats have held Shetland

02:17: Labour's Gill Furniss holds Sheffield Brightside for Labour, defeating Elmo in the process.

02:15: The Liberal Democrats have held Eastleigh. Perhaps that Liberal Democrat revival is on after all?

02:11: Oh me, oh my. Labour have won Edinburgh Southern from the SNP. 

02:10: Three more marginals that look good for Labour: RochdaleSouthampton, and Crawley. The Liberal Democrats have made seven gains in Hull - a net gain of two. 

02:06: For those of you just joining us: in Scotland, the SNP are on course for a majority, while Labour and the Tories are in a close-fought battle for second place. In Wales, Labour remains short of an overall majority but will return to government. In England, Labour's vote is falling on 2012 but the party is making good holds in marginals declared so far. 

02:01: The SNP hold Hamilton and Larkhalll as expected - but no change in their vote. A five per cent swing from Labour to SNP but crucially what looks to me to be a swing from Labour to the Conservatives of eight percent. It's anyone's game in the battle for second-place. 

01:57: That point I made earlier about a Livingstone effect in Bury. Labour are increasingly certain they are, as one source puts it, "fucked" in Prestwich, and they look likely to go from first place to third in Eastwood, which holds around two thirds of Scotland's Jewish population. Greater Manchester and Eastwood are the only places outside London where the Jewish vote is concentrated enough to do big damage to Labour tonight, though there are a few wards in Leeds (not up to tonight) where things could also get dicey. But it will add to the jitters around some in London, already spooked by low turnout.

01:54: Labour retain control of Hastings. In Wales, Labour are confident of holding Llaneli, a marginal they and Plaid Cymru have scrapped over since its creation. 

01:52: Labour hold Harlow, another key marginal. 

01:47: Scores on the door: Labour have won 293 seats tonight so far, a net loss of five. The Conservatives have 114, a net gain of 6. The Liberal Democrats are down four across the piece and have 38. Ukip have 14 so far and have gained 11. The Greens have 2 and have made no net gains. But there are many, many more still to declare. 

01:45: Every time I say something positive about the Liberal Democrats they do a little bit worse. They've just lost Stockport to Labour. 

01:41: The Ken Livingstone Effect? Labour have just lost Sedgely in Bury, where Prestwich's Jewish population is heavily concentrated. Looks like a 20 point increase in the Tory vote there and Labour expect to lose the other seat that is up in Prestwich, which has a smaller but still significant Jewish population. Watch out for how Labour do in Finchley and Barnet when London counts tomorrow. 

01:40: The Liberal Democrats are confident of holding Shetland and increasingly chirpy about Edinburgh Western. A Labour Glasgow councilor is in a cheerful mood: "People on the doors are no longer angry, which gave the impression that things were starting to shift. Actually, it's a sign we're pitied, and no longer feared."

01:35: The Liberal Democrats are having something of a mare in Stockport, where their council leader has lost her seat to Labour. Although the council is notionally no overall control it is Liberal-run. Elects in thirds so will be tricky for anyone to get control there. 

01:33: A good hold for Labour. They are still in charge in Stevenage, a seat they must win in 2020.

01:27: A thought. The BBC is kind of going for a "Labour leadership says this would be a good figure. His critics say something else. Who is right?". That helps the party leadership, even though, to be frank, the baseline the Labour leadership wants to use is too low to be a useful yardstick. But mostly, the BBC's focus on balance hurts Labour. Cf. "Economists disagree over George Osborne's economics", which of course they do. It's just as that the division is not as finely balanced as Osborne would like to suggest. 

01:23: Labour are pretty confident that they will win Edinburgh Southern from the SNP - most of which mirrors Ian Murray's Edinburgh South seat. If you've never been, it is basically the plushest part of Edinburgh. It's as if Labour had been reduced to just one seat in London - and that seat was Kensington. 

01:21: Results from Glasgow and Fife indicate a third-placed finish is on the cards for Labour. 

01:18: Ukip look likely to be the largest party in Thurrock, and are making gains in Basildon too. 

01:15: You'll be shocked to hear that Labour's Joe Anderson is on course to be re-elected as Mayor in Liverpool. In Edinburgh, Edinburgh Western remains a good chance for the Liberal Democrats while Edinburgh Southern remains hopeful for Labour. (I'd like to apologise in advance for getting these two seats mixed up at some point around 4am.) 

01:10: A word from the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) who are kindly assisting me with keeping track of the results.  Their Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr-West, has this to say about the results so far:

“The main focus so far tonight continues to be the Labour vote and what it tells us about Corbyn’s leadership. Many Labour councils who have very different political outlooks from the national leadership may feel aggrieved by this relentless focus on the national: especially if, as is likely, it is costing them votes. This will exacerbate the rift that already exists between a radical leadership and a pragmatic local government base.
So far, Labour are holding safe councils (Newcastle, Liverpool, Sunderland and Halton) - but we expect to see them losing significant numbers of seats as the night progresses. To put this in context, the last time these councils were contested Labour gained 823 seats.

We’re also looking at a Labour wipe out in Scotland and losses in the Welsh Assembly. While a Khan victory will be spun as the story of the night, the reality is that no opposition has lost councils seats in this way for thirty years.”

01:04: For those of you just joining us. In Wales, Labour is set to remain the largest party though the Conservatives are rumoured to make gains in the constituencies. In Scotland, the SNP will not win every seat after failing to displace the Liberal Democrats in Orkney. They are confident in Motherwell and Glasgow, but Edinburgh is anyone's game.  In England, Labour are on course to do worse than their first year under Ed Miliband and fall back on 2012 (it was 2012 when these seats were last contested). 

01:01: In terms of the battle for second place, there was also a 7.5 per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives in Rutherglen. If that keeps up, the Tories will beat Labour to second-place - but only just. 

00:59: The SNP have taken Rutherglen with a nine point swing, putting them on course to take all of Labour's seats. 

00:56: Labour have been whomped by the SNP in Rutherglen, with James Kelly losing his seat by close to 4,000 votes (that's a lot in a Holyrood constituency). 

00:51: That is really a thumping win for the Liberal Democrats. Elsewhere, I am hearing bad news for Labour in Portsmouth, good news in Norwich, where they believe they may have taken three seats off the Greens, and that the Tories have made gains in Nuneaton, which is Labour-dominated at a local level but has sent a Conservative to Westminster since 2010. 

00:48: Rats! The Liberal Democrats have held Orkney, and I am down £20. They are up 32 per cent of the vote there. 

00:45: Turnout from Ogmore, where Labour are fighting both an Assembly seat and a by-election to, is above 40 per cent. Labour are confident of holding it. 

00:42: Labour have gained a seat from the Conservatives in Birmingham and are doing real damage to the Liberal Democrats in Newcastle. My comment about the Liberal Democrat revival is aging really, really well. 

00:40: Scotland incoming! Rutherglen result imminent! Scotpocalypse! Scotpocalypse! 

00:38: McDonnell is beasting Nicky Morgan on BBC doing a very good "more in sorrow than in anger" routine. 

00:34: For an alternative view on Zac Goldsmith, Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, said this earlier today on Newsnight:

"I don't think it was dog whistle because you can't hear a dog whistle. Everyone could hear this"

00:31: Duncan Smith droning on about how Zac Goldsmith's campaign is not at all racist, oh no. I'm not getting paid enough for this. 

00:29: Iain Duncan Smith has appeared on screen. He says he is "hopeful" that Zac Goldsmith will be elected tonight. In Wales, the Conservatives have walked out of the count in marginal Delyn. Labour are sounding fairly pleased about that, as you'd expect.

00:27: I have made two discoveries. The firsts is that the lights in the New Statesman offices are motion-sensitive. The second is that sitting and typing is not quite enough motion. (It's just me here tonight.)

00:26: Council seats so far: Labour have 59, the Liberal Democrats have four, Ukip have none, the Greens have none. The SNP are hopeful of picking up all the Scottish Parliament seats in Motherwell and Glasgow, but Edinburgh is trickier territory. 

00:25: Speaking of bets...I look likely to owe Wings Over Scotland £20 (I bet on a clean sweep for the SNP in the constituencies), as Labour are buoyant about Edinburgh Southern and the Liberal Democrats are hopeful in Edinburgh Western.

00:19: John McDonnell doing a good job putting a brave face on some grim early numbers for Labour. This line about needing only do better than a general election is nonsense, psephologically speaking but he's making it sound like good sense. A validation of Jeremy Corbyn's decison to ignore even some of his closest allies and put him in as shadow chancellor. And still only 9 to 1 on Betfair as Labour's next leader. 

00:10: People on the BBC and keep talking about 2012 as a "high point for Labour". Is this true? Well, sort of. It was Ed Miliband's best year. However, that doesn't mean that Labour doesn't still have room to gain seats tonight - governments tend to lose seats in opposition and Labour lost seats pretty consistently in the areas up for election tonight throughout their 13-year-stay in government. So they still can and should make gains. And bear in mind, even Ed's good years were padded out with gains in safe Labour seats, which went from Labour strongholds with say, 40 Labour councillors and 20 Liberal Democrats to 58 Labour councilors and three Greens. In the places Labour needs to win at Westminster to get back into government, there is real room for growth. Which is why I wouldn't worry overmuch about losing some* seats in safe seats if when the marginals report Labour is making headway there. 

*Some is key. Going from a majority of 10,000 to 5,000 in Labour heartlands is fine if Corbyn is putting on 5,000 votes in seats Labour lost by that kind of margin. Going from a majority of 10,000 to -1,000 in Labour heartlands, less so. 

00:06: Labour look likely to lose Crawley

00:02: Labour have kept control of Newcastle Council, taking a seat from the Liberal Democrats. (I knew that would happen the second I typed the words "Liberal Democrat revival"). 

00:00: For those of you just joining us: welcome. Labour is projected to lose seats but remain the largest party in Wales, where the Conservatives seem to be gaining ground. In England, the Liberal Democrat revival appears to be a thing and not just a Twitter meme. In Scotland, the SNP are sounding buoyant while the Conservatives believe they may beat Labour into third. London won't count until tomorrow but everyone - Labour, Tory, Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol - is getting jittery over low turnout. 

23:55: That early worry I heard from Wales has vanished completely from the Tory side. Vale of Glamorgan is rumoured to be close - a close to six point swing to the Conservatives. So we have biggish swings away from Labour so far tonight. 

23:52: Labour are down 17 per cent in the six seats we've had so far (from 2012 when last contested). Still not very much data, but that would put the party in the mid to low 20s in terms of nationwide share. Personally I think it's unlikely to be that bad when all the results have rolled in. 

23:48: How about that Liberal Democrat fightback, huh? The Liberal Democrats have won a seat in Sunderland from Labour. 

23:47: The knives are already out for Kezia Dugdale in Scotland, where Labour may come third. 

23:42: Bad news for Labour from Wales. Clywd South is in play and the Tories may well win it. Cardiff North, which is Conservative-held at Westminster, looks likely to go the same way in the Assembly having been Labour-held since 2011. Newport West and Llanelli are worth looking out for too. 

23:39: Good news for Labour - they've held the first seat to declare out of Newcastle, and the Liberal Democrats, their main opposition, have privately conceded that Labour will remain large and in charge in Newcastle. 

23:35: Speaking of the Liberal Democrats, they are feeling cautiously optimistic about winning a seat in Edinburgh Western from the SNP, while they expect to recover a bit from 2015. (Things could hardly get worse, I suppose.)

23:32: The first Labour gain of the night, as a Liberal Democrat councilor in Stockport defects. 

23:30: Labour sources are gloomy about their chances of holding onto Exeter Council, where Ben Bradshaw is the party's only remaining MP in the South West. Looks like it will slip into no overall control. Party is also nervous about holding Derby. 

23:25: Tory mole in Wales tells me that things look bad for them - potentially worse than the losses shown in YouGov's poll. The election has become "a referendum on steel", apparently. 

23:20: Early results from Sunderland show Labour doing fairly badly (you know, for Sunderland) and Ukip doing very well. But one swallow doesn't make a summer and we need more data before we know anything. 

23:15: We should get our first result from Scotland in 45 minutes or so. Rutherglen, Labour-held since the Scottish Parliament's creation in 1999, and highly likely to go to the SNP. 

23:13: And what the results mean so far, according to ace numbercruncher Matt Singh:

23:07: Those numbers from Sunderland, where Labour have held in St Anne's ward. Labour down 15 points on 2012, when these seats were last fought, Tories down 3. It's Ukip who are making the headway (they didn't stand last time and expect them do post performances like this throughout the United Kingdom tonight and as results roll in over the weekend). 

23:04: Back to Wales - YouGov's poll "looks about right" according to my Plaid Cymru source. What does that mean? Labour could go it alone and do deals on a vote-by-vote basis - they govern alone now with just 30 seats. If the poll is even a little out - let's say either Labour or the Liberal Democrats get one more seat - they might do a deal if they can get a majority with the Welsh Liberal Democrats. 

23:01: Pallion Ward in Sunderland is the first to declare, and it's a Labour hold! More on percentages as I get them. 

22:58: Why isn't it an exit poll, I hear you ask? Well, an exit poll measures swing - not vote share, but the change from one election to the next. People are asked how they've voted as they leave polling stations. This is then projected to form a national picture. Tonight's two polls are just regular polls taken on the day of the election. 

22:57: The Sun's poll - again, not an exit poll, I'm not kidding around here - of Scotland has the SNP winning by a landslide. (I know, I'm as shocked as all of you) But more importantly, it shows the Conservatives beating Labour into second place. The Tories believe they may hold onto Ettrick as well. 

22:55: What news from Scotland? Labour looks to have been wiped out in Glasgow. Liberal Democrats think they might hold at least one of Orkney or Shetland, while the seats in Edinburgh are anyone's game. 

22:52: Hearing that turnout is low in Waltham Forest, Lewisham, Hackney and my birthplace of Tower Hamlets (the borough's best export unless you count Dizzie Rascal, Tinchy Stryder or Harry Redknapp, that's me). Bad news for Labour unless turnout is similarly low in the Tory-friendly outer boroughs. 

22:47: YouGov have done a poll (note: not an exit poll, it should not be taken as seriously as an exit poll and if you call it an exit poll I swear to god I will find you and kill you) of the Welsh Assembly. Scores on the door:

Labour 27

Plaid Cymru 12 

Conservatives 11

Ukip 8

Liberal Democrat 2

There are 60 seats in the Assembly, so you need 30 seats for a majority of one. 

22:40: In case you're wondering, how would closing a seven point deficit to say, six, compare to previous Labour oppositions, I've done some number-crunching. In 1984, Neil Kinnock's Labour turned a Tory lead of 15 per cent at the general election to a Conservative lead of just one per cent. In 1988, one of 12 per cent went down to one per cent. (He did, of course, go on to lose in both the 1987 and 1992 elections). In 1993, John Smith's Labour party turned a deficit of eight points at the general to a Labour lead of eight points in the local elections. William Hague turned a Labour lead of 13 points to one of just six in 1998, while Iain Duncan Smith got a Tory lead of just one point - from a Labour lead of nine. In 2006, new Tory leader David Cameron turned a 3 point Labour lead to a 13 point Tory one. Ed Miliband - remember him? - got from a Tory lead of seven points to a two point Labour one. 

22:35: John McDonnell is setting out what would be a good night as far as the party leadership is concerned - any improvement on the 2015 defeat, when the party trailed by close to seven points. Corbyn's critics say he needs to make around 400 gains.

I've written about what would be good at length before, but here's an extract:

"Instead of worrying overmuch about numbers, worry about places. Although winning seats and taking control of councils is not a guarantee of winning control of the parliamentary seat – look at Harlow, Nuneaton, and Ipswich, all of which have Labour representation at a local level but send a Conservative MP to Westminster – good performances, both in terms of increasing votes and seats, are a positive sign. So look at how Labour does in its own marginals and in places that are Conservative at a Westminster level, rather than worrying about an exact figure either way."

22:31: Oh god, the BBC's election night music is starting. Getting trauma flashbacks to the general election. 

22:22: A few of you have been in touch about our exit poll. Most of you have been wondering about that one vote for George Galloway but the rest are wondering what happens - under the rules of the London mayoral race (and indeed the contests in Salford, Bristol and Liverpool), 2 votes would not be enough for Sadiq. (He needs 2.5). However, all the other candidates are tied - which makes it through to the second round. What happens then is the second preferences are used as a tie-break. Of the tied candidates, Sian Berry has the most second preferences so she goes through to face Sadiq Khan in the final round. Final round is as follows:

Sadiq Khan: 3

Sian Berry: 2

3 votes is above the quota so he is duly elected. An early omen? 

22:19: Burnham latest. A spokesperson for Andy Burnham says:

"Approaches have been made to Andy Burnham to give consideration to this role. It is early days and no decision as been taken. Whatever the decision, he will continue to serve the leader of the party and stay in the shadow cabinet."

22:17: Anyway, exit poll of the office. We've got:

Sadiq Khan: 2

George Galloway: 1

Caroline Pidgeon: 1

Sian Berry: 1

22:15: Update on Andy Burnham. He has been asked to consider running. More as we get it. 

22:13: People are asking if there's an exit poll tonight. Afraid not (you can't really do an exit poll in elections without national swing). But there is a YouGov poll from Wales and I am conducting an exit poll of the four remaining members of staff in the NS building. 

22:11: It's true! Andy Burnham is considering running for Greater Manchester mayor. Right, that's it, I'm quitting the liveblog. Nothing I say tonight can top that. 

22:09: Rumours that professional Scouser Andy Burnham is considering a bid for Greater Manchester mayor according to Sky News. Not sure if this is a) a typo for Merseyside or b) a rumour or c) honestly I don't know. More as I find out. 

22:06: Conservatives are feeling good about Trafford, one of the few councils they run in the North West.

22:03: Polls have closed. Turnout looks to be low in London. What that means is anyone's guess to be honest. There isn't really a particular benefit to Labour if turnout is high although that is a well-worn myth. In the capital in particular, turnout isn't quite as simple a zero-sum game as all that. Labour are buoyant, but so are the Tories. In Scotland, well, the only questions are whether or not the SNP will win every single first past the post seat or just the overwhelming majority. Both Labour and Tory sources are downplaying their chances of prevailing in the battle for second place at Holyrood, so make of that what you will. And in Wales, Labour look certain to lose seats but remain in power in some kind of coalition deal. 

22:00: Good evening. I'm your host, Stephen Bush, and I'll be with you throughout the night as results come in from throughout the country. The TV screens are on, I've just eaten, and now it's time to get cracking. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.