The Tories have least to cheer as both main parties lose out overnight in local elections

With less than half the English results in, the Lib Dems and Greens have had the best performance so far.

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Well, that certainly wasn't the performance of a political party that is in a fit state to win a parliamentary majority any time soon.

But which party am I talking about? It's obviously true of the Conservatives, who at time of writing have lost 346 seats, more than Gordon Brown in 2009 - and with many more councils still to declare, it will certainly outstrip Brown in 2008, too. 

But it's also true of Labour, who themselves have lost at least 75 councillors. As I wrote before the contest, they really ought to have been able to register gains in the low triple figures.  Nor can either side credibly point to low turnout in a contest that was about par for a local election.

What actually happened was that the two parties traded inconclusive blows in straight Labour-Tory fights and were blown away almost everywhere voters had a real choice to escape the two-party duopoly. In some places that meant the Greens, in quite a lot of places that meant the Liberal Democrats and in some parts of the country it meant independents of various hues.

The crucial thing though is that however you slice it, it is hard to come up with a plausible path through the Brexit mess that maintains the support of enough voters to win a majority - for either party. 

Of course, the crucial thing is that our contest is first past the post and neither side will mind if they look to be crawling over the line as long as they get over it before the other lot.

On that score, Labour have more to cheer than the Conservatives because the Liberal Democrat revival looks to be more pronounced in Conservative-dominated areas than Labour ones. In Labour areas, the Liberal Democrats are essentially a revanchist force: they are claiming back some of the territory they used to compete with Labour in, but by no means all. But in Conservative councils they are not only replenishing their lost local authority seats but making bigger and deeper inroads into true-blue territory than they had before.

It's the Liberal Democrats and the Greens who will really have a spring in their step, partly because there are still contests yet to declare where they both might do well, but mainly because they have both already made significant gains.

The Greens have won seats all across England against almost every type of opposition, gaining 34 seats, while the Liberal Democrats have done even better, gaining 245.

It's something of a setback for Change UK. Part of the argument for their creation was that the Liberal Democrats were finished, that their brand was so repellent that they needed to give way to another party. There are 245 holes in that argument this morning and there may well be 350 holes by the end of the day.

It looks instead as if there is a perfectly viable alternative to Labour's left in the shape of the Greens and to their right in the shape of the Liberal Democrats. So what's left for Change UK?

It gives Vince Cable the great prize of being able to go into the European elections as the largest, toughest pro-European force - and means that whatever happens in the European elections he can leave the stage having left his party in a far stronger state than the one he found it in. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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