Leaving aside for one moment the London media's new-found love affair with a hard-right party (a match made in heaven if ever there was one), what really matters about the English local elections is what they tell us about the likely outcome of the Tory v Labour battle for power in the next general election. And the answer couldn't be much clearer. Here are the BBC's projected national vote shares...
Liberal Democrats 14%
29% is obviously a laughably low share of the vote for a major opposition party seeking a mid-term launch-pad to get back into power. Labour can justifiably use the UKIP surge as an alibi for that vote share, but what they can't use it as an alibi for is their pitiful four-point lead over the Tories at a time in the electoral cycle when they should be miles ahead. The reason UKIP isn't a credible excuse is that polling evidence shows that five times as many UKIP voters come from the Tories as from Labour. In other words, if UKIP hadn't been around, the Conservatives would almost certainly have outpolled Labour in these elections.
But even if we take the raw figures at face value, the BBC's graphics quickly demonstrated why Labour's four-point lead is hopelessly inadequate. At the same stage of the electoral cycle in the 1983-87 parliament, the Labour opposition had a bigger lead of 5% in the local elections - and went on to lose the general election. At the same stage of the electoral cycle in the 1987-92 parliament, the Labour opposition had an even bigger lead of 8% - and went on to lose the general election. The same fate befell the Tory oppositions that held a similar small lead in the mid-term local elections in the 1997-2001 and 2001-05 parliaments. The historical evidence is absolutely unambiguous - the results of these elections point to a Tory victory in 2015.
Having seen that evidence, John Reid bizarrely protested that the BBC hadn't mentioned the 1981 local elections, which he regarded as the most appropriate comparison, because the centre-left vote was split in the early 1980s in the same way that the centre-right vote is split now. There are just a couple of tiny problems with that theory, John -
1) In spite of Labour's huge handicap in 1981, Michael Foot actually won those elections by a margin of 3% - almost exactly the same lead that Labour have managed this year. They went on to a crushing defeat at the general election two years later. Not much comfort there.
2) If the split in the centre-right vote is such a huge opportunity for Labour, why did they so spectacularly fail to take advantage of it in these elections? And given that they failed to take advantage of it in the favourable context of a mid-term poll, why the hell would it be rational to assume that they are much more likely to take advantage of it in the context of a general election when the governance of the country is at stake? Hint - it wouldn't be remotely rational to assume that.
Labour's position isn't hopeless, but given the electoral disaster they have just suffered it seems to me that something fairly dramatic is going to have to happen if they are to win the general election. That something could be internal - either a radical change in policy direction or a change in leader (both are unlikely). Or it could be external - the Tories could shoot themselves in the foot so catastrophically that Labour win by default.
But as things stand, the Yes campaign are fully entitled to shout a simple truth from the rooftops - the Tories are heading for victory at the next election, and if you don't want to be ruled by them, the only alternative is to vote for independence.
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Gerry Hassan also made the valuable point today that UKIP are in favour of the de facto abolition of the Scottish Parliament. After the Tories' acceptance of the principle of devolution, we assumed that the spectre of a right-wing government in London unilaterally scrapping Holyrood (as Mrs Thatcher scrapped the GLC) had vanished, but that may not now be the case. If UKIP start to win MPs, who knows what stance a future UKIP-Tory coalition might take towards Scottish self-government? It may well be that a No vote in next year's referendum would put at risk the long-term future of the devolved parliament.
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There were of course no elections in Scotland yesterday (apart from a couple of by-elections, one of which was won by the Borders Party and the other by an independent), but the SNP's sister parties in Wales and Cornwall had battles to fight. Plaid Cymru had a terrific result in Anglesey, becoming the largest single party by some distance. And Mebyon Kernow had a respectable result in the unitary Cornwall authority, winning a handful of seats - quite an achievement given that they presumably receive next to no coverage in the broadcast media.