Vote 2011: What now for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg?
- 6 May 2011
- From the section UK Politics
It has been a momentous day for the electoral make-up of Britain.
Voters have installed the SNP as the first majority government in Scotland's history, delivered a body blow to the Liberal Democrats in town halls across England and overwhelmingly rejected a proposed change to the way MPs are elected in the first national referendum in 40 years.
They have also been to the polls in their millions in Northern Ireland and Wales, where Labour have fallen short of an overall majority.
So how will the results impact on the three main party leaders at Westminster?
The prime minister and Conservative leader has managed to win seats while cutting public spending, something few pundits expected.
The Conservatives emerged from these elections with more English councillors and councils, and two extra Welsh Assembly members.
There were downsides - losing the party leader in Wales, and a relatively poor performance in Scotland.
But these elections were a resounding success for the Conservatives, especially in England.
The party is also looking forward to a much bigger long-term gain.
The Lib Dems have failed to get a change to the alternative vote, that may well have favoured them.
The Conservatives can still look forward to a redrawing of the Westminster parliamentary boundaries that will benefit their party.
Had the referendum resulted in a Yes vote David Cameron would have been in big trouble with some very angry Tory backbenchers.
He will still come under pressure not to concede too much to Nick Clegg, but having failed to win an overall majority at the general election he can now count himself a winner.
The obvious danger to Mr Cameron is that the Lib Dems could be so damaged the coalition would be put at risk.
He is already being careful not to heighten that risk by gloating over their discomfort.
But should Mr Clegg easily survive the post election storm, but continue to struggle at future elections, Mr Cameron may well allow himself to smile rather broadly away from the cameras.
The Lib Dems expected bad results, and they got them.
The final scoreboard made grim reading: With 700 fewer Lib Dem English councillors, nine fewer councils and 12 fewer MSPs.
They had their first experience of sending out government ministers to put a brave face on dreadful news.
They, like many other ministers before them, could argue those making difficult decisions in power often struggle to win votes.
But while they suffered, their coalition partners prospered, and the referendum result dealt a much longer lasting blow than any set of local elections.
The referendum was one of the Lib Dems' big prizes from the coalition negotiations.
It allowed the prospect of electoral change - the desire for which runs deep in a party that has since its creation felt ill-used by the first past the post system.
But rather than winning approval for the alternative vote, which could have paved the way to a more radical change to the way we vote, the party suffered an overwhelming No vote.
For doughty Lib Dem campaigners smarting after a difficult time on the doorsteps that will be deeply depressing.
And yet - Nick Clegg remains deputy prime minister. He is still the man who led the Lib Dems to places around the cabinet table. The demands for him to step down are few and far between.
The Lib Dem hope remains that the coalition government will emerge from its term with an improving economy, and the party will go into the next election with a reputation for competence in government.
For now, though, that is a distant prospect.
And just over a year since Cleggmania, Lib Dems will look at the projected national share from this election and see the Conservatives on 35 percent, Labour on 37 per cent and Nick Clegg's party on 15 per cent.
At best, for them, that could signal a possible future coalition.
At worst, under the first past the post system to which the UK is now committed, it looks a lot like the old two party duopoly the Lib Dems have spent their lives trying to break.
The Labour leader has reasons to be cheerful.
Decent gains in the English local elections are no surprise given the party's poor performance the last time the seats were contested, but the campaign delivered them.
In Wales they came tantalisingly close to an outright majority, and could enjoy taking seats from all their rivals.
That was the good news.
But the result from Scotland, where they now have seven fewer MSPs, was dreadful for the party - not least because it had enjoyed a lead in the polls only a few months earlier.
Iain Gray's defeat and resignation means Labour has a huge job of rebuilding in a nation in which it could once take piles of votes for granted.
The resounding No verdict in the referendum campaign means Ed Miliband backed a losing argument.
But as Labour has been, and will continue to be, split about electoral reform the disappearance of that debate will not break the hearts of too many party strategists.
In some parts of the country Labour campaigners will have enjoyed seeing voters who deserted them at the general election returning.
But any relishing of Lib Dem discomfort will be tempered by the strong Conservative performance.
The party is a long way from putting David Cameron under anything like the pressure Nick Clegg has endured.
And Labour insiders are clear - they know they still have much work to do.