First the good news - I don't think there is any. In pure numbers terms apart some small local gains (retaking Slough etc) this was a very bad set of results for Labour, worse than I was expecting. There is nothing positive at all in losing well over 300 councillors plus, of course, losing London to Boris. By the same score it was a very good night for the Tories. Worringly they did well in Wales and bits of the North. It does look like they are on a roll. The people have spoken, the bastards.
The strange thing about it is that you don't detect any particular enthusiasm for the Tories, people just don't want to vote for Labour. I do find this rather surprising given that the country is actually doing pretty well. When the Tories were doing this badly we had experienced two recessions, high unemployment and interest rates, negative equity etc. The situation is clearly much better now, despite the less rosy economic environment currently. But obviously people still feel they are not doing well and as such want to try an alternative. My own view is that we have become rather spoilt by the benign environment we've had in recent years. So much so that even the idea of difficult times is enough to make people angry.
I am not sure that people actually know (yet) what they are voting for when they vote Tory. I think that makes the current situation rather different to pre 1997, although the feeling of momentum is clearly similar. Labour under Blair pre 1997 were accused of being light on policy detail, but the Tories under Cameron have taken this to a new level. Whilst this is a very sensible, and successful, strategy for the Tories it does worry me (not just as a Labour supporter) that people don't really know what they are mandating.
I am not at all convinced that the Tories have significantly changed since the 1990s. They certainly haven't undergone the sort of introspection and transformation that Labour did in the 80s and 90s, since the modernising trend in the Tories has only been dominant for a couple of years. That does make me think that the Cameron makeover is simply a veneer job.
I have never had any doubt that there are significant policy differences between the parties. Just because Labour got pulled in some stupid directions by populist but relatively unimportant issues such as inheritance tax should not obscure the fact that in a range of policy areas they have tried to do progressive things whilst the Tories have been irrelevant or obstructive. In the areas I am familiar with because of work the Tories have tended to be obstructive and often been content to parrot the views of industry interests. Many also clearly still have an inherent distrust/dislike of unions.
The elections also demonstrate the irrelevance of the far left in electoral politics. Both wings of Respect did poorly, the SWP front the Left List particularly badly. It was quite interesting reading some of the commentary from the far left about Ken's relationship with the RMT. Some people were seriously arguing that Ken would lose support from working class voters because he wasn't supportive of RMT strike action. Only if your politics come out of marxist text books can you possibly come to that conclusion. Like it or not, most Londoners are more likely to react to a tube strike with anger than a desire to show solidarity with Bob Crow. I have to say that the utter failure of the far left when up for election does also make me question why they are so over-represented within trade unions. Aside from the fact that I don't agree with their analysis of society and the tactics that derive from it, I think the grandstanding they do in the unions also make us a much easier target for the Right.
More broadly the failure of the far left also demonstrates how volatile the political situation is. Look at the reverses suffered by UKIP in London. It does show you how hard it is to put down real roots in the electorate if you are a new party, especially if your pitch is primarily tied to a single issue. What can look like a serious emerging trend can quickly evapourate. I will be surprised if either bit of Respect has a real future as Iraq continues to recede as an issue.
Personally while I am glad its all over as I don't enjoy doing the practical stuff (though all I do is leaflet a few streets) this election has made me realise I really ought to do more stuff for Labour. We are thin on the ground these days and as many have said the party's structures have become hollowed out. The only way this can be changed is by more active participation by members, and I guess that means me.