23 May 2014

Local elections 2014 – the key questions

You could be forgiven for thinking Ukip won the council elections. It didn’t, but a strong showing from Nigel Farage’s party has sent shockwaves through the Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats.

You could be forgiven for thinking Ukip won the council elections. It didn't, but a strong showing from Nigel Farage's party has sent shockwaves through the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems (Getty)

Was there really a Ukip breakthrough?

There is no doubt that Ukip performed strongly. But although the party made inroads into the Tory vote (in places like Essex) and the Labour vote (in places like Rotherham), it has not captured a single council and does not control any English local authority.

For Nigel Farage, the real prize will be increasing its seat tally in the European parliament – and winning its first seats at Westminster in 2015, assuming it does not manage this feat before then at the Newark by-election.

For decades in Britain, we had had two-party politics (Conservatives and Labour). This became three at the 2010 general election, with the Lib Dems joining the Tories in a coalition.

In Scotland, with the SNP in charge, it is four-party poltics. Now, with the rise of Ukip, we could be seeing four parties fighting it out in England and Wales, although it is more likely to eat into the major parties’ votes than win a significant number of seats.

Who won the local elections?

The prize for managing to take over councils from other parties must go to Labour, which ousted the Conservatives in Hammersmith and Fulham and Croydon and turfed out the Lib Dems in Cambridge.

Unlike the Conservatives and Lib Dems, Labour gained, rather than lost, council seats.

The problem for Ed Miliband’s party is that it should have done better the year before the general election.

Although it is on course to gain more than 200 seats, which it said beforehand would be a good result, election expects believe the party should be looking at 500 gains if it is to win in 2015.

Labour will now have to address the fact that it is not just traditional Tory voters turning to Ukip, but Labour ones, too. Look at Thurrock for evidence (more later).

Where did Ukip votes come from?

Although it looks as though most Ukip votes came from disaffected Tories, the party also benefited from traditional Labour votes.

Ukip gained five seats in the Essex town of Thurrock, two from Labour and three from the Tories, with the end result that Labour lost control of the council in an area where it needs to do well if it is to win the general election.

We were used to the north-south fracture line in English election results. Yesterday's local elections confirmed it's even more fractured than that. Read Gary Gibbon's blog.

Ukip also gave Labour a bloody nose in Rotherham, in south Yorkshire. But the Tories have little to cheer about, having lost control of four councils in south Essex thanks to Ukip.

So is Ukip popular everywhere?

Ukip may have succeeded in narrowing the north-south divide, but it was shunned by London voters, who gave Labour its backing.

By Friday afternoon, the party had taken over three councils, including the Tory flagship Hammersmith and Fulham, with the Conservatives ousting the Lib Dems in Kingston.

With sky-high rents, spiralling house prices and the effect of the benefits cap on the capital, voters may have felt Labour, rather than Ukip, had the better policies.

Or could it simply be, as one Ukip spokesperson put it seemingly without irony, that London is too “cultured, educated and young” to vote for Nigel Farage? See our poll.