It is always difficult – may be pointless – to interpret the results of English local elections, London mayoral election, as well as the elections in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland with a view to the next and still-quite-distant Westminster general election scheduled for 2020. Four years are an eternity in politics, which is often shaped or at least seen to be hugely influenced by events and momentums. And perhaps the Westminster-centric point of view is mistaken. The Holyrood, Cardiff Bay, and Stormont elections should be considered for their own significances. That observation may also apply to the London mayoral election.
Yet political narratives will be woven for the main parties with UK / Westminster politics in mind. The national – that is to say the UK-wide – picture is that Labour has not done as badly as had been predicted in some quarters, but it is probably fair to say that the party has not done as well as it ought to have done, given Labour is in opposition and the Tory cabinet, party, and supporters are divided on the referendum on the British membership of the European Union. To put it another way, these results are not a vindication for Mr Corbyn’s leadership, but they are not catastrophic enough for the party to jettison him. Mr Khan has won the London mayoral election, however it will be debated whether it is thanks to or despite Mr Corbyn as the Labour leader, and Labour’s performance in Scotland and Wales should worry the party.
The Conservatives have not done badly, and not doing badly in these elections for the party in government at Westminster is an achievement. The scale of the task facing the Liberal Democrats to rebuild their foundations has become very apparent. There might have been odd good signs, such as picking up a couple of seats in constituencies for the Holyrood elections, but coming behind the Greens in Scotland and London mayoral election, and behind UKIP in Wales and for London Assembly paint a terribly miserable picture. Support for UKIP remains solid, but there are no indications that it has significantly raised the upper ceiling of its potential support. It will be interesting to see how UKIP positions itself after the EU referendum: if the British electorate decides to remain, then its main policy of leaving the EU is rejected, and if the British people decide to leave the EU, then its raison d’être disappears. The Greens have done well, but a big question still remains as to whether they can really establish a national presence or not. Can they break through? Of the UK party leaders, probably Mr Cameron would be the happiest with how things have turned out.
In Scotland, the SNP has lost its overall majority at Holyrood, but it is a clear triumph nevertheless, and the results were dire for Labour, after losing constituencies to the SNP, and as the Conservatives came second ahead of Labour. If Labour were to form the next government at Westminster, the party would need to gain seats in Scotland, as it is extremely unlikely for it to obtain a UK-wide overall majority from constituencies in England and Wales alone. The SNP and the Conservatives in Scotland are mirror images in some respect. Both parties can play opposition while in government. In the case of the SNP, it is in government in Holyrood, but plays opposition in Westminster, and has perfected the game; the Conservatives in Westminster are in government, but play opposition in Scotland. The Conservatives have won a majority in Westminster without Scotland, which may give the Tories in Scotland more room for manoeuvre as they have less need to coordinate their policies with the UK-wide party, whereas Labour will be constrained to a certain extent by the need to align their UK and Scottish policies, thus making it vulnerable from attacks from both the SNP and the Conservatives.
These are strange times, as the EU referendum is so close. Normal politics, if such an expression makes sense, will resume once that is over.