The scale of the swing bodes ill for Labour (2 May 2008)
Despite some isolated disappointments, the Conservatives have scored staggering successes, writes Lewis Baston
Local election results always produce a mixed picture; there will be councils where local factors produce swings that go against the national pattern.
The Conservatives should have regained Worcester, which they only lost last year in a byelection that took place at the brief high tide of enthusiasm for Brown’s Labour last autumn, but they did not.
They might lose Coventry. But these seem likely to be only small, isolated disappointments in a generally very strong Conservative performance.
They are also balanced up by some staggering local Tory successes. Their gains in Harlow were so stunning that they took overall control of the council for the first time ever, and Labour did not win a single ward in what had been until recently an old Labour (in every sense) municipal stronghold.
But the most bizarre result so far seems to have taken place in Southampton, which was at the furthest edge of possibility for the Tories. They made eight gains and took control in a bitter and unpleasant election campaign, following the formation of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition at the budget vote in the spring.
The city will now have two years of Tory control and will be an experiment in hard-right populism. We shall see whether the tide goes out as quickly as it came in.
In most of the country the pattern seems to be modest Conservative advance from the 2004 baseline, which is a highly creditable overall performance.
They should have little difficulty in passing the benchmark of 200 net gains by the time the final result comes in tomorrow afternoon.
Labour can forget about claiming much comfort, let alone satisfaction, from the English local elections, and the scale of the swing bodes ill for London.
If net losses go much below 200 seats, and Livingstone loses London, that is a recipe for a normal-sized post-election panic.
But the horrific detail in places like Harlow and Southampton almost pales besides the near-disaster in County Durham.
Labour looks like having squeezed out a small majority in this council, which has been a fortress since 1919 – with 62 Labour seats, 52 opposition seats and 12 still to declare. When Durham trembles on the brink, it is a real disaster.