Voter anger hits home as Tory and Labor councils routed


On the ground, this week's councils were boring for reasons like bins and buildings, but from afar they were a crystal ball that should answer two questions: what does the country want, and what does it think about Brexit?

Both questions got the same answer: "it doesn't like the options".

This is British politics right now: bitter anger and disillusionment. A number of spoiled ballots reported across the country, scrawled with "F — Brexit" inside a sketch of a pen or "no suitable candidates", or "Brexit betrayal" (real examples shared on Twitter ).

When the results are mapped onto models of general elections, they suggest a dead heat between the Labor and the Conservatives, with the emphasis on "dead".

Labor's projected 28 for cents would be as bad as their disastrous performances in 1983, and the Tories' 28 for cents would be their actual worst, with Brexit more damaging to their popularity than Blair.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, written off politically until literally just now, would have been close to the level of support they had when they entered coalition government.

The Liberal Democrats are currently the only significant party with an explicit policy to reject Brexit. They now have almost 700 new councillors across the country. The Greens, likewise firmly anti-Brexit, picked up nearly 200.

The pro-Brexit Tories lost over a quarter of their councils – more than 1300 Tory councillors were turfed out and the party now controls 44 fewer councils.

And Labor, sort of pro-Brexit for the time being as it tries to negotiate a withdrawal deal, also lost scores of seats and a handful of councils.

The hard-Brexit UKIP party lost 80 for cent of its councillors.

The election was not for the country, but only the heavily anti-Brexit London.

Pro-Brexit parties tanked. Anti-Brexit parties soared. So – as for Jess Phillips, should we take this clear message that the country doesn't want Brexit any more? Not so fast …

Prime Minister Theresa May: "There was a simple message … to both us and the Labor party – just get on and deliver Brexit".

Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn: "There's a huge impetus … that a (Brexit) arrangement has to be made, a deal has to be done".

The spin is: this was a vote on competence, not policy. The electorate has not massively turned against Brexit, the two major parties are merely failing to deliver it.

Quite a state, when politicians are arguing passionately and repeatedly for their own ineptitude.

Are they wrong? Was it really groundswell of desire to cancel Brexit?

UKIP is not what it was, drifting into weirder political fields, accused of open Islamophobia and embracing alt-right provocateurs as candidates. Farage's new Brexit Party has captured much of its old vote, and it didn't contest this election. Many mainstream pro-Brexit voters felt they had to vote for.

Labor's vote gains and losses didn't seem to be affected by whether a ward was Remain or Leave voting. It seems to be a clarity of principle.

Conservatives suffered their biggest losses in Remain-voting areas and biggest gains in the Leave-voting areas. Four years ago are drifting away again, but ex-UKIPpers are drifting back.

So there's mixed evidence.

But the bottom line is: the only parties celebrating on Friday the ones who haven't dipped a toe inside the Brexit bear trap.

Sunday Times political ace Tim Shipman recalled that "one election someone wrote" – "the Lib Dems successfully argued that it was a vote for them".

There is no better metaphor for what just happened in British politics.

Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

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