Key moments of the #Elections2016 so far.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 6, 2016
We now have a good bank of results, which while incomplete allow us to draw some conclusions. So what conclusions can we draw?
- The pollsters have either made the right corrections from last year or have been lucky
The local election results so far in are very much in line with the broad thrust of the opinion polls we’ve been seeing in the last month or so. The Welsh assembly results are very close to what we could expect from the polls. The Scottish results are consistent with the last YouGov poll taken (meaning that the 8/1 that I tipped yesterday morning on No Overall Majority in Scotland came home).
Political observers have gone from one extreme to the other with their treatment of opinion polls. From poring over them obsessively last year, they are now ignoring them completely. The correct treatment lies somewhere in between. They should be taken note of, but not treated as tablets of stone.
In turn, that means we should take their findings about the EU referendum seriously. There is no reason to assume that this isn’t very close at present.
- There is no evidence that Jeremy Corbyn is particularly vote-repellent
Before the local elections, as in the Oldham by-election, there were noises that Labour were having major problems on the doorstep. But that hasn’t materialised in a voter strike. Indeed, in the past Labour have underperformed their polling at local elections and the Welsh assembly elections while this time they performed to polling expectations. Whether that’s because the pollsters are doing better or Jeremy Corbyn has unlocked more assiduous Labour support, we can’t tell.
But the idea that Jeremy Corbyn makes traditional Labour voters reach for the smelling salts or to change allegiance has no substance as yet. Those Labour supporters, so noisy in the media and on Twitter, who are appalled with him and have sat on their hands or changed sides seem to be a small minority.
This is the single most important point to be deduced so far.
- Jeremy Corbyn is safe for now
These results are far too good to get a broad consensus of Labour MPs to march with pitchforks on their leader to depose him. It was never going to happen anyway because Jeremy Corbyn remains far too strongly supported by the membership but it isn’t even going to be fantasised about now.
This has certain real world consequences. Sadiq Khan, if elected as Mayor of London, has no reason to backtrack on his promise to give up his seat. Andy Burnham has no reason not to pursue his idea of becoming Mayor of Manchester if he thinks Labour are a busted flush at national level under their current management. Neither therefore look like good bets for next Labour leader (though either might yet get the job at some point later on).
This in turn depletes the pool of experienced ministers from whom Labour could select a leader to take over as and when Jeremy Corbyn is ultimately replaced. The options for unity candidates are diminishing and Tom Watson is becoming ever more unchallengeable in that role.
- Life just got a bit more complicated for the SNP
While the SNP will form the next administration, they are going to have to play nice with someone. They could align with the Greens, who support independence but who come with other problems. Or they could align with the Lib Dems, who have long experience of being a junior partner in coalitions and who will no doubt be very enthusiastic to repeat the experience.
When they were last the largest party without a majority they formed a minority government. They could do this again, but at the risk of being subject to the kind of guerrilla ambush by opposition parties that the SNP enjoy carrying out so much in Westminster.
And threatening Westminster with the idea of holding a referendum every time Nicola Sturgeon has a bad hair day is now out of the window. While a referendum in this Scottish Parliament is still possible, it has become rather less likely.
- There is no end for Scottish Labour’s misery
Every time that you think Scottish Labour has hit rock bottom, they find another trapdoor. They are now some way adrift in third place, behind the hated Conservatives. Right now they lack purpose, with the Conservatives having grabbed the mantle of unionism and the SNP having become the Scottish progressive party. This polarisation seems set to continue, given that both of those parties have highly capable leaders.
Is this rock bottom? I doubt it. Scottish Labour are in severe danger of becoming irrelevant, if they have not already got there. If that happens, the only way is down.