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4 May 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:38am

The surprise winner of the local election results so far? Vince Cable

The party’s gains will quell the speculation about the party’s leader. 

By Stephen Bush

To no one’s particular surprise, the biggest loser of the local elections is Ukip, who have been defeated everywhere they have stood, with the exception of Derby, where they have two councillors.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the winner of the local elections is…Vince Cable.  

The Liberal Democrats harvested local discontent effectively in Sunderland, gave Labour a fright in Hull, won back Richmond at a clip, held onto Sutton, Eastleigh and Cheltenham – and are, at time of writing, the biggest gainers as far as seat gains go.

It will silence – at least for a while – the noises off about Cable and his leadership. 

Of course, local elections are easier for the Liberal Democrats than general elections as the biggest reason people cite for not voting Liberal Democrat – a fear that their vote will be wasted – just isn’t as big of a worry in a local election as a general one.
But the big prize is what happened to the other two parties. Yes, both gained seats, and Labour’s performance in London was actually very good – they just decisively lost the spin war, partly because they didn’t really try to fight it. 

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But what both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May will have to grapple with this morning is it is not clear on this showing what the path for a workable parliamentary majority for either of them is. There aren’t enough great cities in England for Labour – there are too many great cities in England for the Tories.

That has several consequences. The first is that it will strengthen the hand of pro-Brexit forces within the Labour leadership. Look what happened in the small towns, they will say. We can’t go soft on Brexit now, they will say. It will also strengthen the hand of those Conservatives who believe that the path to another parliamentary majority lies through winning the likes of Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Ashfield rather than seeking to retake Battersea, Kensington or Canterbury. 

And crucially for the Liberal Democrats, it means that Cable can, at least semi-plausibly, be spoken of as a possible kingmaker at the next election. 

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