By David Hughes and Andrew Woodcock
Theresa May shrugged off a difficult week as Prime Minister as she hailed Conservative “success” in English local elections after Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour failed to make predicted breakthroughs.
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 MP Dan Jarvis comfortably won the Sheffield City Region mayoralty after a fight with his own party to be allowed to do both jobs.
Ukip suffered a bloodbath, with dozens of councillors culled and its own general secretary comparing the party to 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 achieved a surprising success in South Cambridge.
With results in from 141 of 150 councils:
– Labour had a net gain of 68 seats but a net loss of control of one authority
– The Tories had also suffered a net loss of one council and had 72 fewer councillors
– The Liberal Democrats put on an extra 61 seats and gained control of three 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 to 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.
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.
“Obviously, I am disappointed at any places where we lost a bit of ground, but if you look at the overall picture, Labour gained a lot of seats across the whole country, we gained a lot of votes in places we never had those votes before.”
But the impact of its underwhelming 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.
The Prime Minister – just days after suffering the resignation of home secretary Amber Rudd and a setback over finding Cabinet agreement on the post-Brexit customs plan – was greeted by cheering supporters in Wandsworth.
She praised their efforts in beating 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.
Other dramatic scenes in the capital saw Liberal Democrats gain 25 seats in Richmond to regain control of the Remain-backing borough for the first time in eight years. Tories lost 27 councillors and were reduced to a rump of just 11.
Sir Vince said the Lib Dems were “very much on the way back”.
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.
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 to “the Black Death” as he struggled to find positives in a night of virtual wipeout.
“It’s not all over at all,” Mr Oakley 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.”