Despite losing control of Kingston and Richmond councils by big swings, the Conservatives managed to come out of the London local elections looking like relative winners. Labour had over-hyped the prospects of taking control in Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster – with Momentum’s very public ‘Unseat’ campaign pouring hundreds of volunteers into these Tory flagships. 
 
As a result, the Conservatives only had to hold the line to be able to declare a victory. When Wandsworth stayed Conservative (even if by the slimmest of margins) Theresa May was promptly out there taking the win. Jeremy Corbyn meanwhile had to rather publicly cancel plans for a victory party in Barnet.
 
On one level the goal had looked wide open for Labour. The Windrush scandal, the resignation of Amber Rudd, and the breakdown of Cabinet consensus on Brexit left Theresa May looking weak and her party divided. It was a poor platform for the Conservatives to fight on. So what went wrong?
 
Labour’s first problem was really one of expectations management. In reality the election result did see consolidation for Labour and modest gains: they control 21 of 32 boroughs and in many have now unassailable majorities. But by over-promising they not only set themselves up to fail, they also galvanised Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters. 
 
In Wandsworth the spectre of Labour winning and a ‘leftist’ administration helped get Conservative voters out to the polls and save at least a few seats. Whilst, in the leafier parts of Haringey the talk of the UK’s first ‘Corbyn Council’ helped the Lib Dems take control of the east of the borough. 
 
This highlights Labour’s second problem in that it has pretty much ‘maxed out’ its existing support base. It is not reaching out to new audiences and instead it expected the results of the 2017 General Election to be repeated with another ‘great leap forward’. This did not happen as other left-leaning voters went elsewhere or stayed home.
 
One clear reason is Labour’s anti-Semitism issue. As Sadiq Khan has been quick to identify, there are lots of Jewish voters in London “who don’t feel comfortable voting Labour”. Indeed, it is hard to find a better reason why the Party did not take Barnet. But it is not just Jewish voters who are affected, there are plenty of other people who were put off by this distasteful side to Labour. The Lib Dems and Greens were mostly the beneficiaries. 
 
Where does this leave the Labour Party? On the plus side for Labour, raw councillor numbers went up and moderate Labour leaders across London got a renewed mandate. With elections out of the way they are in theory free to pursue new and existing regeneration initiatives. Internally, however, the Labour Party has a challenging relationship on planning and regeneration. 
 
Against all of this backdrop the clear cut winners at the elections were the Lib Dems. As well as the results in Kingston and Richmond, they held onto Sutton giving them a real presence in the capital. Both boroughs were Remain-voting and the Lib Dems were able to capitalise on a backlash against development. In Richmond they also did a deal with the Greens not to stand candidates against each other. 
 
The votes may have been counted but the fall-out of the election is far from over. The last weekend has already seen two leadership battles: Cllr Muhammed Butt held on comfortably in Brent, whilst Cllr Peter John only just won the contest in Southwark. Expect more changes in the coming weeks. New councillors and new council groups will bring new dynamics. On the Labour side internal influences will be an important factor, while the Conservatives will be thinking what they can do to turn around their prospects. 
 
If you’d like to find out about our work in the areas of local government, regeneration, property and planning consultancy, email Ralph Scott, managing director of Four Public Affairs at Ralph.Scott@fourcommunications.com