What do the Local Election results mean for national politics?

After another good night for UKIP, with mixed fortunes for the three main parties, this guest post by election expert Keiran Pedley of the polling firm GfK looks at what today’s Local Election results mean for politics over the next year.

With Westminster keenly anticipating the European election results on Sunday and a flurry of sometimes seemingly contradictory local election results today we can be forgiven for asking ‘how much can we really tell from last night’s results?’ In many respects we won’t know for certain for a few days, once the results are fully digested and the media narrative settles down, but there are a few key themes emerging we can explore already.

UKIP breakthrough (again)

However you look at these results they are great news for UKIP. What makes them arguably more important than last year’s local election results (other than being closer to the next General Election), which though impressive were largely confined to Conservative Shire counties, is that UKIP can now genuinely say that they can take votes from each of the main political parties. Last night’s surge in support for UKIP, at the time of writing leaving them with approaching 90 new councillors, has seen them deny the Conservatives control of councils in Essex whilst making quite astonishing gains in Labour heartlands such as Rotherham.

Although this doesn’t alter the fact that they still take more votes off the Conservatives than Labour, it does provide them with continued momentum as they seek the holy grail of a Westminster seat (or two) at the General Election and gives Labour something to think about. Put simply, they are not going away any time soon.

Labour success in London

Equally as interesting as UKIP’s successes nationally has been Labour’s success in London. Labour were looking to make progress in outer London boroughs, areas key to Boris Johnson’s successive elections as Mayor and they have managed to do so.

Taking councils where there was no overall control such as Merton might have been expected but Labour’s win in Hammersmith and Fulham will provide a real shot in the arm as this was a flagship Conservative council where key national policies were often piloted. Losing here is a major blow to the Conservatives. Labour will also be looking to make progress in places like Croydon and Harrow, which contain marginal Westminster constituencies they need to win in 2015 to form a Government.

Prime Minister Miliband?

So with UKIP doing well and Labour making gains can Ed Miliband start measuring the curtains at Number 10? Sky News used last night’s results to project Labour as the largest party at next year’s General Election but just short of an overall majority. However, such comparisons are tricky because turnout is far higher at General Elections and voters will likely consider far more carefully the implication of their vote when it impacts who controls the economy and ultimately who is the next Prime Minister.

The reality is that for all of Labour’s success in London last night, the picture elsewhere is less conclusive. Ed Miliband does not yet feel like a man on course to be the next Prime Minister and his personal poll ratings support that. That said, the idea of a Labour / Liberal Democrat coalition in 2015 is very plausible, just perhaps not certain.

Looking forward

As the local election results are fully assessed, eyes will quickly turn to the announcement of the European election results on Sunday. Recent polls have suggested it is neck and neck between Labour and UKIP for first place. It will certainly be interesting to see if UKIP can win a national election; we shouldn’t forget that Labour has the resources and experience of fighting such elections which could be crucial in such a tight race.

If UKIP do win, the argument against having Nigel Farage in the leader debates at the General Election becomes quite unsustainable. We should expect politics to settle down as the summer draws near and focus shifts to Scotland and party conference season but what appears clear is that the era of four-party politics – for now at least – is well and truly upon us.

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