DAVID GROSSMAN: In the TV studios, even before
the results were in, the frantic spinning began. Each party claiming the
night was theirs. Iain Duncan Smith - in his first big test as leader -
determined to put on a good show.
So do the Conservatives
have a right to be happy with their performance? In bold figures they
appear to have done rather well. While overall, Labour lost three hundred
and thirty nine seats, the Liberal Democrat total was up just forty four
seats, the Conservatives performed best, gaining two hundred and thirty
eight seats and control of a further nine councils. And if we look at
the national share of the vote, again the Conservatives at least came out
just ahead, Labour are on thirty three per cent, the Liberal Democrats
on twenty seven per cent, but the Tories are in first place on thirty four
But the local elections
didn't set the Tory leadership dancing in the streets here outside Central
Office, and for a very good reason. Despite winning some seats, the party
failed to take control of some of their target councils, like Trafford
and Wolverhampton and the Conservatives actually lost control of some heartland
councils like Cheltenham, Eastbourne and Worthing. Indeed on some measures
at least, Iain Duncan Smith has actually made little or no improvements
on the party left to him by William Hague.
PETER KELLNER: The real problem for the
Conservatives is that for an opposition party to be challenging for power
at the next election, they need in these interim elections to be getting
well over forty per cent of the vote. What did they get on Thursday, a
projected share of thirty four per cent. Two years ago, similar elections,
William Hague as leader, the Conservatives scored thirty eight per cent
and they still went on a year later, to be hammered in the General Election.
The Conservatives are way, way short of where they need to be, at this
stage in the Parliament, if they're really to be challengers for power
at the next General Election.
GROSSMAN: So why aren't voters
returning to the Conservatives in the kind of numbers the party will need
to have a chance of winning the next General Election. Well, the BBC has
commissioned some opinion polling to find out how people see Iain Duncan
Smith and his party and for the Conservatives the results make depressing
reading. If Tony Blair has set the Tories a political mountain to climb,
it seems at the moment Iain Duncan Smith has barely got his boots on.
When voters were asked
which Party: Is in touch with the views of ordinary people? Only eleven
per cent thought the Conservatives were. When asked which party has the
right leadership team? Only fourteen per cent replied Conservative. And
on specific issues, the results were just as bad - for example only thirteen
per cent of voters thought the Tories could be trusted to run the NHS?
KELLNER: It's quite clear from
all the polling evidence that the Conservative Party is still out of it,
as far as most voters are concerned. They don't think the Conservative
Party is sensible, or credible, or in any way with better policies than
Labour. It's got a huge image problem it has to overcome in the next three
years before the next General Election.
GROSSMAN: Local elections over
then for another year. The night's results weren't a disaster for the
Tories, but did show the party has a huge amount of work still to do.