A mixed set of election results saw Theresa May shrug off a difficult week as Prime Minister as she hailed Conservative “success” while Jeremy Corbyn pointed to “solid” progress despite failing to secure key targets.
The Conservatives held on to “crown jewel” authorities in London including Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington, as well as the key Labour targets of Barnet and Hillingdon, while picking up votes from Ukip across England.
But despite the ongoing row over anti-Semitism and the lack of eye-catching victories, there were signs of progress for Labour and analysis suggested the two main parties were neck-and-neck overall in terms of national vote share.
Labour gained control in Tower Hamlets from no overall control – and even though it was Labour’s only gain in the capital, the party claimed the results amounted to the party’s best showing in London since 1971.
Labour’s sweep of 42 of the 45 seats in Tower Hamlets also represented a serious defeat for Aspire, the party backed by disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman, which won no seats.
Ukip suffered a bloodbath, with dozens of councillors culled and its own general secretary comparing the party with the Black Death.
But the Liberal Democrats enjoyed success, ousting the Tories in Richmond upon Thames in south-west London – leader Sir Vince Cable’s back yard – and neighbouring Kingston while a more unexpected victory came for the party in South Cambridgeshire.
With results in from all 150 councils:
– Labour had a net gain of 82 seats and controls the same number of authorities as before the vote.
– The Tories suffered a net loss of two councils and have 96 fewer councillors.
– The Liberal Democrats put on an extra 76 seats and gained control of four extra councils.
The polarisation within British politics was laid bare by an analysis conducted by election guru Professor Sir John Curtice.
Votes in the local elections equated to a 35% share for both Labour and the Conservatives.
The BBC’s projection suggests that if the result was repeated at a general election there would be another hung parliament with Labour on 283 seats in the Commons compared with the Conservatives’ 280.
Labour had entered the election with high hopes of victories in the capital, but in Barnet, there was clear evidence of voters from the area’s large Jewish community turning their backs on the party after it became embroiled in allegations of anti-Semitism.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson acknowledged the Jewish community had “sent us a message” and said the party had to learn lessons when it came to dealing with anti-Semitism in its own ranks.
Mr Corbyn sought to put a brave face on overnight results which saw Labour gain control of Plymouth.
I was delighted to be in Plymouth this morning where Labour took control of the council from the Tories.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 4, 2018
Plymouth now has a council that will stand up against Tory austerity and for equality and justice. pic.twitter.com/idObPqfKIW
Meeting activists in the Devon city, Labour’s leader denied that his party has passed the moment of “peak Corbyn”.
“No, no, there is much more to come, and it’s going to get even better,” Mr Corbyn told Sky News.
In an email to supporters, Mr Corbyn said it had been a “a solid set of results for Labour” and “we have consolidated and built on the advances we made at last year’s general election”.
Scrutiny of Labour’s performance was amplified by a failure to damp down expectations of victory in Tory strongholds which have not voted Labour in decades.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna called for an internal inquiry into the party’s campaign, warning that the results cannot leave it confident of success at the next national poll.
For the Prime Minister – just days after suffering the resignation of home secretary Amber Rudd and amid ongoing difficulties over Brexit – the results will come as a relief despite the loss of scores of councillors.
On a visit to Wandsworth she praised campaigners’ efforts in seeing off a Labour challenge which had seen the streets flooded with activists, including members of the Corbyn-backing Momentum campaign.
“Labour thought they could take control, this was one of their top targets and they threw everything at it, but they failed,” said the Prime Minister.
Labour said that tight results in four Wandsworth wards meant it missed out on victory by just 141 votes.
Mr Corbyn’s party lost Nuneaton and Bedworth – a bellwether area that often indicates the colour of the Government at general elections – as well as Derby.
And it fell short of gaining control in areas like Swindon, Dudley and Walsall, where it had hoped to establish middle England strongholds.
Labour MP Dan Jarvis comfortably won the Sheffield City Region mayoralty after a fight with his own party to be allowed to do both jobs.
A huge thank you to everyone who gave their time to our campaign. @Conservatives had a strong night across the country - which means we can continue to deliver great local services while keeping council tax low. pic.twitter.com/MZ6QDEUCf2— Theresa May (@theresa_may) May 4, 2018
The Conservatives gained control of councils in Peterborough, Southend and Basildon, and saw a small swing in their favour outside the capital.
But they lost Trafford, their flagship council in the North West, to no overall control.
Ukip’s general secretary Paul Oakley compared his party with “the Black Death” as he struggled to find positives in a night of virtual wipeout.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption and then it goes dormant, and that’s exactly what we are going to do.
“Our time isn’t finished because Brexit is being betrayed.”