Transformation exaggeration

3 May 13

Local politics has been shaken by the performance of Ukip in yesterday's elections, but it’s far from being a transformative moment. For most councils, the direction of travel will remain unchanged

The national media has understandably focused on Ukip’s gains following yesterday’s local elections and is busy debating whether this is a watershed moment in British politics.

It's certainly true that Ukip have done far better than they could possibly have imagined and this is likely to impact on national party policy. Nonetheless, talk of a transformative moment in our political landscape may be overblown.

While vote share and seats matter of course, and give us an insight into the national political mood, we should never forget that these elections are really about determining how services are delivered for millions of people around the country.

That’s important because we know that local government has to exercise leadership around a range of issues from reforming adult social care to reviving local economies. These challenges are the stuff of everyday lives, the things that really matter to people, and we face some tough choices about how we deliver on them.

When we think in these terms we might argue that locally not much has actually changed. Ukip are not in the position to shape policy in any of the councils that have declared so far. Not many councils have changed hands from one party to another, though that may change over the course of the day if Labour take more councils from the conservatives.

Labour look like they will miss out on Staffordshire and Lancashire, but have made gains across the counties and are taking back control of midlands strongholds like Derbyshire. The party will be pleased to have a stronger presence across the country.

Similarly, the LibDems seem to be profiting from their deep local roots and are avoiding a wipe out though not making the positive progress they may have hoped for.

More councils have gone to no overall control than we might have thought, including some like Norfolk that the Conservatives would have expected to hold. As the Tories remain the largest party in the councils they have lost control of, they may feel that things could have been worse.

In these councils, they are likely to remain effectively in charge barring an unthinkable Labour-Ukip alliance. They are more likely to find minority administration, or some sort of agreement with the LibDems or even Labour, attractive than to work with the unfamiliar political force that is Ukip.

For most councils then the direction of travel will remain unchanged. Back to work on Tuesday morning!

Jonathan Carr-West is chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit and Lewis Baston is senior restearch fellow at Democratic Audit

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