I’ve finally managed to get some sleep, but I’m still reeling from a fantastic 24 hours for the Liberal Democrats.
Sure, we were hoping for good results in these local elections, but this is an absolutely decisive victory for the Liberal Democrats and our hard-working local councillors and campaigners across the country.
It’s good to be back, isn’t it? The Tories and Labour, those creaking leviathans of the two main parties, have (rightly!) been given a drubbing at the polls by voters frustrated at the absolute mess they have made of Brexit. Many voters were so frustrated that they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote – I spoke to so many people on the doorstep in my area who were despairing.
Locally, in the Vale of White Horse in western Oxfordshire, the Conservatives’ disastrous record running the council is just as much a factor as Brexit. We started the night with nine councillors. Now, thanks to the dedication of our community champions, we have gained 22 seats and control the district. The Tories, previously a dominant force, have just six seats left.
So the electorate’s message couldn’t be clearer: the political consensus is letting us down at every level.
Liberal Democrat councillors have a well-deserved reputation for being fantastic community representatives, and these results are testament to the incredibly hard work of our existing councillors and our campaigners.
And that’s crucial. Going into these European Elections on 23 May, our activist base is primed and ready. We have proven in the last 24 hours that our grassroots organisation is going from strength to strength. There might be more than one Remain party standing, but we have the resources and the momentum to succeed.
Now, at the time of writing, there are still several councils left to declare. We’ve had our best result since 2003 already, just after Blair’s invasion of Iraq, and if the gains continue at this pace we will achieve the best local election results in our history.
We must build on this momentum, and our message is this: if you want to stop Brexit, vote Lib Dem in the upcoming European Elections.
But I believe this is part of a longer term shift in our politics. I’ve already mentioned voters’ frustration with the two main parties, but the electoral alliances that are the Tories and Labour are surely at a point of no return.
With the Conservatives, many of their own councillors and members will refuse to campaign for their own party for these upcoming elections on Europe. That’s completely shocking – if a political party can’t even energise its most committed activists into delivering leaflets and knocking on doors, how can they secure their long-term future?
And then there’s Labour. Barry Gardiner, shadow international trade secretary, put it better than I ever could – Labour, he said, is speaking with two voices on Brexit. I’m sure the party hoped that would help to keep its Leave/Remain coalition together, but it’s done the opposite. Leave and Remain voters abandoned the party in droves last night, Sunderland being a stark example.
Our tired, old politics is tearing at the seams. The Lib Dems have returned to their local roots, just as a more pluralist politics is desperately needed.
Our electoral alliance with the Green Party in the Vale of White Horse helped both of our parties to victory. We worked together, knowing that with our First Past the Post system we needed to if we were to succeed.
I hope that this is a sign of a more mature politics that we can work towards in the coming months and years. I was delighted last month to help launch More United – a cross-party group of MPs who want to achieve real change on the domestic crises facing our country, rising above party lines.
Just the start of a real change, a realignment? I hope so.
But these local elections have shown us that the Liberal Democrats are back, and we’re here to stay, changing our politics for the better, every step of the way.