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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: What should Cameron learn from so many lost Tory seats? Nothing.

Everyone interested in politics is asking two questions. What do the local elections tell us about the next election, and what lessons should the government learn from the loss of so many Tory seats? Each is easy to answer, and in both cases it is the same answer: nothing. Labour did well, but not spectacularly well. The Tories suffered heavy losses; in mid-terms, governments usually do. It would be absurd to extrapolate from the Con/Lab outcome to the result of an election in 2015.

The real losers were the Liberals. Their activists will be especially upset, because modern Liberalism is a party of local government (most Liberal MPs would be at full stretch as members of a parish council). Labour can dream of further advances, while the Tories will cite plenty of precedents to justify their hope of recovery. The Liberals have no dreams, only nightmares: no hopes, only fears.

There is one lesson which they should learn. It was widely expected that the voters would be keen on elected mayors: absolutely not so. In Birmingham, which was once a Liberal citadel, they do not want an elected mayor. So what will they think about an elected House of Lords? It is lunacy.

David Cameron would love to throw Nick Clegg a bone. If the Liberals could come up with an idea which was a) popular and b) commonsensical, then even if it meant twisting the Treasury's arm for an extra billion or so, the PM would be delighted for them to take the credit. Popularity, commonsense: those terms seem absent from the modern Liberal lexicon.

There is a lesson which all politicians should learn. Fewer than one third of the voters could be bothered to turn out. Much of the sovereign people is in a mood of angry apathy. But it would be most unwise of the Tories to be seen to appease it. That would give the impression of panic, which is why Mr Cameron should learn no lessons from Thursday's results, except the ones which he ought to have learned already. What the public want from him is strong leadership and good government, reinforced by the sense that he is on their side: that his priorities are their priorities; his values, their values; his Britain, their Britain.

All of that, he could deliver. But there are risks. Thursday's rebuff was unimportant. Let us suppose, however, that Mervyn King is being too optimistic: that in a year's time, the recovery is still stuttering. Let us also suppose that in 2013, based on the previous twelve months, the average voter thinks that the Tories stand for House of Lords reform - even though it has split their party - and for homosexual marriage. It might then be possible to imagine Ed Miliband in 10 Downing Street.

More easily than one could imagine Boris Johnson. As midnight approached, twenty-six hours after the polls closed in London, there was still no result. Lights had failed; ballot boxes have been found lurking in obscure corners. Even if the turnout in Tower Hamlets had stayed well below two hundred percent, the count was teetering on the edge of shambles, and a recount. It all sounded like something from the first Mayor Daley's Chicago. Let us hope that this is not an overture to the Olympics. Anyway, the clock struck twelve and nothing turned into a pumpkin. Boris won the mayoral marathon and is entitled to hearty congratulations, as long as they do not go to his head.

Boris requires longer analysis. As for Ken, a lot of Labour supporters will find consolation in his defeat, on the assumption that his political career is now over. That could prove unfounded. I find it very easy to imagine Ken running again in 2016. The Labour high command would use every means short of asssassination to prevent him. If they succeeded, at the cost of undignified authoritarianism, he might then run as an independent. Boris and Ken: it is hard to decide who has the more anarchic ego; which of them is more solely interested in his own gratification, whatever the consequences for his party. That contest could be as tight as the Mayoral race.

But at the serious end of politics, there was good news, from an unexpected quarter. The Labour party did well in Scotland, confounding Alex Salmond's hopes. We can make one confident prediction. The Nats have no hope of winning an early Referendum on the Union. That is all the more reason to press ahead with a quick poll, on the simple question of independence, yes or no, without any commitment to further devolution, and disregarding Mr Salmond's weaselling and procrastination.

Although it is unfortunate that the Scottish Tories are making such a minimal contribution to the defence of the Union, the Nats' knavish tricks are being confounded. That was much the most important result on Thurday, even including Boris.


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