We don’t yet have a final turnout figure for Thursday’s unique set of local, mayoral and police commissioner elections, but it will certainly settle at less that the 67 per cent of 2019’s general election.
The conventional theory of voter behaviour is that government supporters don’t turn out for local elections, but do so for general elections.
Were the theory to have applied on Thursday, we would have expected to see a roughly uniform swing against the Conservatives across the country.
And the Party did indeed lost its hold on some councils, such as Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, the Isle of Wight, and Tunbridge Wells.
But, overall, its vote is up eight per cent since the last set of local elections to 36 per cent, Labour’s is up one to 29 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats are down two at 17 per cent.
And there are now 15 more Tory-held councils than there were before Thursday’s poll, and roughly 200 more blue councillors.
The council gains included three not from No Overall Control, but directly from Labour: Harlow, Amber Valley and Southampton.
The conventional theory doubtless applies up to a point: it is hard to see the Party losing an Oxfordshire seat it don’t now hold at the next election, though that may not be true in South Cambridgeshire.
But an effect other than voter protest is plainly taking place: a realignment based not on so much on economics but culture – which began to break through in the 2017 general election.
In that year, the Conservatives gained Stoke-on-Trent South, Walsall North, North-East Derbyshire, Middlesbrough South & Cleveland and Mansfield from Labour: seats it had seldom, if ever, held.
This reformation continued apace in 2019, and was spectacularly illustrated again in Hartlepool on Thursday, where the Tories gained 51 per cent of the vote, in a swing of more than 16 per cent.
What appears to have happened on Thursday is less the Party winning new votes from Labour, let alone the Liberal Democrats, as mopping up the old Brexit Party vote – thus uniting the Right.
It could be that it is Labour and not Conservative voters who are protesting; that they will return to the party come the next election – and that the former shouldn’t be too concerned about the results.
And Labour can duly comfort itself with some gains: it won the West of England and the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoralties, after all.
Furthermore, its supporters can, if they wish, compare the apple of this election to the pear of the 2019 general election, and claim, truthfully enough, that it has reduced a 12 point deficit to a seven point one.
The Conservatives’ opponents, more broadly, can take comfort from the Party’s loss of control in those councils named earlier, and from the loss of other wards, higgledy-piggledy, across England.
The last entry in our live blog showed a typical instance: Woking, where the Liberal Democrats made some gains.
So let this site be the first to identify a potential Blue Wall effect, whereby voters in plusher Conservative-held areas, who feel culturally alienated from the Tories, vote for other parties.
We cite parts of: Trafford, West Sussex and Kent. ConservativeHome will be putting this problem under a magnifying glass, starting tomorrow, in order to try and measure its potential.
“These are not slight warning signs,” one experienced pollster and campaigner told us yesterday. “They are big red flashes which under someone better than Starmer could cause chaos”.
But the overall picture seems to be that while the Right is uniting behind the Conservatives, the Left is fracturing between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the growing Greens.
There are complex cross-currents: obviously, the Greens took seats on Thursday from the Tories, as well as from Labour.
But the latter appear to be more exposed to them: for example, the Greens are now the joint biggest party on Bristol council, displacing Labour’s hold on it.
All in all, we see nothing to discourage Boris Johnson from planning a spring or summer general election in 2023…
…Assuming that by then the Fixed Terms Parliament Act is dust, and that the boundary distribution has taken place (though he might well fancy the Conservatives’ chances even without it).
Our snap take on the Budget was that, in the event of faster-than-predicted growth, a rampant Johnson would push for a poll in 2023. That prospect is very much alive.