Yesterday's local elections pushed a reset button in British politics.
UKIP lost almost all of its council seats, only defending and gaining a total of three seats. The Tories lost 31 and defended key councils like Wandsworth, and Labour didn’t quite achieve as many as planned but still gained 59 seats.
The big winners though, were the Liberal Democrats, winning 75 seats and taking control of multiple significant councils, including Kingston Upon Thames and Richmond Upon Thames which they took back from the Tories.
There is talk that UKIP voters are simply returning to the parties they came from, but it wouldn’t make sense that voters would return to the Liberal Democrats. It seems to me that the Conservatives have benefitted from the UKIP vote, but the surge in Lib Dem support in some areas of England has knocked Tories off their perch in a number of wards.
The Liberal Democrats are, once again, the protest vote.
I remember in 2010, when we had our first ever leaders debate before the General Election, and Nick Clegg appeared on the national stage. Though already an MP and Lib Dem leader, many voters across the country had never heard of him, or even considered voting Liberal Democrat before. But they soon did, once he appeared on stage, between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, offering an alternative to politics as usual.
It didn’t really matter what Clegg said. He just disagreed with the two big parties, smiled, and reaped the rewards. He was a real protest, and it got him into government.
But ultimately his success was his downfall. His stint in Number 10 with Cameron firmly planted him as an establishment figure, and a new protest party appeared. It was UKIP, and it coincided with migration problems and more frequent power grabs from the European Union.
And now after eight years of turbulence, and a couple of referenda later (remember the AV referendum? Weird), we’re back to square one.
This local election has been a reset button.
It was surprising to see the Labour Party not do as well as expected. In a mid-term election like this, one would have expected Labour to do much better. But the Tories managed to keep hold of a few key councils, and hold back Corbyn.
Amidst the rather mediocre results for both the Tories and Labour though, was the wipeout of UKIP.
Surprisingly though, Anne Marie Waters’ party, For Britain, had some respectable results on the night.
In the eyes of most voters, Brexit is a done deal. The Tories are sorting it out and it should be finished soon – and as a result, voters have gone back to their traditional homes, and now they’re looking for a new protest vote. They’re back supporting the Liberal Democrats, with its veteran leader Vince Cable, and its committed local members who publish regular local newsletters showing off just how many road signs they’ve cleaned during the year.
We’re once again a 2.5 party state, and I bet there will be no snap elections before 2022. The Tories don’t have sufficient support to create a majority government, and Labour could probably only just scrape together a coalition with the Greens and the SNP, if there was a snap election tomorrow.
This worries me. I hope in a national election, when local issues are no longer at play, people recognise that the Liberal Democrats are firmly anti-democratic and want to reverse the decision we so boldly made in 2016.
Until then though, the Lib Dems are once again the third biggest party, and Britain is a 2.5-party state.