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The local election results bode ill for Labour and the Liberal Democrats

Neither party can expect to make any gains at the general election.

By Stephen Bush

The bad news? For Labour and the Liberal Democrats, this is as good as it gets.

Even local elections held in the teeth of a June general election – like this one and the Conservative landslides of 1983 and 1987 – still flatter the opposition parties slightly in terms of their vote share.

Last night’s results didn’t tell us how badly Labour and the Liberal Democrats will do – they told us what the ceiling to the party’s performance was.

Equally, the Conservative victories – in England, in Wales, in the Bath and Bristol mayoralty – gave us an idea of what their floor is.

The long and the short of it: the Tories are on course for a blowout victory on 8 June. Its main plank is the almost wholesale absorption of the Ukip vote into the Conservative voteshare. Ukip were wiped off the map yesterday, and their votes – including much of the large number that originally voted Labour – went to the Tories.

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That alone would be enough to lock in a Conservative rout on 8 June. But that in parts of the country the Labour vote actually declined as opposed to merely being overhauled points to the party’s wipeout trajectory.

Labour also slipped back in Wales though there, they are in the happy position of having a multi-party opposition, none of which, thus far, has made a decisive move to establish itself as the “not Labour” force. That the biggest winners in Wales were independents highlights how, at a council level at least, the party may outperform expectations.

But the biggest surprise of the night was the Liberal Democrats and how poorly they did. They couldn’t make up ground in Cheltenham, a key target. They appear to be attracting new voters, but not ones in useful places – their vote share looks to be up on 2015, but in the Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds they are actually going backwards. They couldn’t even make it into the final round of the West of England mayoralty, where Labour lost to the Conservatives on second preferences.  

Put plainly, neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats are in a position where they can expect to make any gains at all in June. Instead, for both of them this election will be about survival. And that, regrettably, is the optimistic scenario.