What to conclude from tonight’s results? Well, here’s a summary. As I type, the BBC are reporting we are:
Councils: 6 (-1)
Councillors: 1053 (+8)
They project our national share of the vote to be 25%, 1% more than Labour’s.
But, we must acknowledge, the last time we fought these seats we were at 29%. So where have those people gone? Well, as the Big British Castle has been reminding us all night, in 2004 we were doing well off the back of the Iraq War. Except at the time, they would have phrased it as “attracting protest votes from people who didn’t want to vote Tory”, I imagine.
Is this a bad thing? What strikes me is that, if our vote is down, but the councillors it returns is up slightly, and the change in control of councils has seen no particular catastophic collapses in support in places where we represent a serious electoral prospect, then what do those 4% of projected national people we lost represent? I hate to say it, but I suspect that in 2004 our detractors were right: protest votes.
We have now shed the Labour protest vote, I think. As the psephologist sat next to Nick Robinson tonight (whose name I have rudely forgotten) pointed out at some point, the Lib Dem supporter is no longer the tactical Labour voter she once was. We are our own party now, much more than a few years ago. Much as we might find it hard going, we must accept that under Ming and Nick, we are continuing the steady work of carving out a real identity for ourselves. It is one the electorate are coming to appreciate. Not overnight, not with a disinterested and frankly hostile media mediating our relationship with them. But soon. If at a time of Tory revival like this, we are as capable of holding our heartlands against them as we are capable of picking up Labour seats where we find them, then I see no cause for alarm. Quite the opposite. It suggests to me we now have a firm core support of about 25% (in local government elections, anyway).
All we can do is build. But don’t let “them” tell you that Charles Kennedy did anything other than sensibly capitalise on a populist position. They don’t come along every day, and the fact there isn’t really one around at the moment doesn’t mean we’re in decline, much as the BBC might like us to be (tonight, I actually heard a reporter describe one council race as “a nice straightforward Tory Labour battleground” – make no mistake, they wish we weren’t here). All we can do is build, steadily and on ground which belongs unmistakeably to us.
Tonight was a victory for Rennardism.