It was billed as a set of local elections that would show us whether Labor is on course to win the general election and the verdict is in.
Sir Keir Starmer looks set to be our next prime minister if this set of local election results is anything to go by.
But he still has a mountain to climb to win the power to do anything.
Because when you extrapolate these 1.7m votes out to give a national estimated share for the main parties with a general election likely next year, Labor looks on course to becoming the largest party at the next election, but falling short of winning an outright majority.
Ace labor Took councils in key election battlegrounds from Medway in Kent, Swindon in Wiltshire, and East Staffordshire in the West Midlands, Sir Keir and his team will no doubt feel vindicated and jubilant.
But for all these wins the party leader still has plenty of work to do to be confident of winning the ultimate prize – a majority government – next year.
Based on analysis by our Sky News election experts led by Professor Michael Thrasher, Labour’s vote share is projected to lie between 36 to 38%, with the Conservatives between 28 to 30%.
Local elections 2023: How to cut through the political spin as the results come in
So, Labor is ahead of the Tories by eight or so points, against a projection of a 14% lead ahead of the Tony Blair 1997 landslide, or the 13% lead David Cameron had ahead of winning the most seats but falling short of an outright majority in 2010.
That the gap is smaller tells us Sir Keir has a lot more work to do if he wants to emulate Tony Blair.
Quite simply, Sir Keir Starmer needed to be crushing the opposition in every pocket of the country to have reached the giddy heights of being likened to Tony Blair as these results came in.
Labor will require a swing even bigger than the post-war record 10.2% Blair achieved in 1997 and gain 124 seats to win outright.
Labor has done that only three times in the past 100 years: 1929 when the party substantially increased its number of candidates; and in 1945 and 1997 when both wins were in landslide territory. Logically, this is a one-term project, but a two-term effort.
A share of the spoils
Because for all the eye-catching wins from Labour, the party was having to share the spoils of the Tory collapse with the Lib Dems and Greens.
Ed Davey’s Lib Dems took chunks out of the Tory blue wall in the traditional shires, taking Windsor and Maidenhead councils, Dacorum in Hertfordshire, as well as seizing Stratford-on-Avon – where Nadhim Zahawi is the MP – from the Tories, who lost control of the council for the first time.
The Greens meanwhile became the largest party in East Suffolk, as the Tories lost 24 seats and control of the council.
Sir Keir’s Labor also failed to make real inroads in places he’ll need at the next general election, with Conservative rivals pointing to the soft performance in the Tees Valley – in Stockton and Darlington – and lack of progress in key pockets of the Midlands, such as Dudley and Walsall, which Tory aids held up as an example of an area where they are outperforming their dismal national trend.
Labor strategists insist that the combination of an eight-nine point lead in projected vote share, revival in Scotland following the SNP’s wobbles, and this set of results which show a bigger Labor swing in the key battlegrounds for the next election, puts them on course for a majority.
That assertion from Labor is less clear on the back of these results, but what is absolutely crystal clear is that the Conservative performance has surpassed their worst nightmare, with the new prime minister squeezing on all sides in a set of results that has left the Tories putting in their worst performance in a decade.
Is this a new dawn for Labour?
Final results expected in next few hours – and what we know so far
A blow for the Tories
If voters were meant to be swayed by Mr Sunak’s attempts to detoxify the Tory brand, they seem to have missed the memo.
That “change” message seems to have cut through, with the only real loser at these local elections being the Conservative party.
Labor will be going into 2024 with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election line: “Are you better off than you were 18 years ago?”
What Sir Keir needs to do between then and now is to convince the public the answer to that question is Vote Labour, rather than the Lib Dems or Greens if he wants to avoid a minority government or having to bind in a smaller party to govern.
These set of results suggest he’s yet to seal the deal, but he can at least say now he’s on the right path as the Conservatives stare out into the political wilderness.