Once again Sunderland demonstrated the speed of its vote counting machine by declaring the first ward results. Although Labour’s council majority remains formidable the devil lay in the detail.
Close analysis demonstrated UKIP was not only hoovering up the protest vote that once upon a time went to the Liberal Democrats but it was halting Labour progress.
Just a few ward results foretold the flavour of the overnight counting in 66 local authorities.
Slowly, UKIP began to translate voter support into seat gains.
At first these were typically victories from the Conservatives, repeating a pattern at last year’s county council elections, particularly in southern and eastern England.
Then, after five recounts in Hartlepool, UKIP finally got the headline it needed – aUKIP gain from Labour.
Just two votes separated victor and vanquished but that did not stop the newly elected UKIP councillor from basking in his triumph.
More spectacular still was the outcome in Rotherham.
At the parliamentary by-election, prompted by the imprisonment of Denis McShane for expenses fraud, UKIP had come a creditable second.
Now, it had its breakthrough, making ten gains, the majority from Labour.
The balance of gains and losses took on an unfamiliar theme.
Instead of showing Conservative/Liberal Democrat losses and Labour gains, at one point it showed all three of the established parties as net losers.
Labour struggled to find the correct line to take.
It queried predictions that it should be making net gains of about 500 seats, preferring instead its own modest claim that 160 gains would be good news.
That level of gains would certainly not be the launch pad that Ed Miliband needs to take him into Downing Street.
Certainly, Labour’s progress was being compromised by UKIP’s unexpected bounty of local votes.
Councils such as Tamworth that are critical barometers of the likely outcome of next year’s general election provided evidence that Labour’s plan A needed revising.
The Conservatives held on to power there and also in Swindon, scene of the Labour leader’s campaign gaffe.
After 47 of the overnight 66 councils had declared the table of gains and losses had an unfamiliar look.
Under normal circumstances the party of opposition would be leading the way in gains but UKIP eclipsed the Labour tally by a sizeable fraction.
The results from London, where a large fraction of the 4,200 seats at stake are located should provide a better story for Labour when they declare their results throughout Friday.
But even here there could be a surprise or two in store for all of the main parties.
Most of these wards elect three councillors but UKIP has chosen to field a single candidate in many of them.
This might have led some voters to remain mostly loyal to their usual party but donate their third local vote to UKIP, thereby boosting an already good night for the party.
23 May 2014 | 6:03 am – Source: orange.co.uk