Strong personalities with narratives win elections, shock
I've just flown in from Egypt to be confronted by a media awash with the early results of the UK local, Welsh, Scottish and AV polls. It's a big switch from the slums of Cairo to the psephological niceties of Blaenau Gwent. However coming in from abroad always brings you to the essence of a situation: you see it vicariously as foreign journalists might, filtering out the local detail.
Here's my snap judgement: it's those with strong personalities and strong narratives that are navigating the choppy waters best.
Alex Salmond has a strong narrative, not just on nationalism but on a mixture of social, economic and eg health policies. Cameron has a strong (ish) narrative and a growingly distinct international profile (on Libya, and despite that new quiff, OBL); he is convincing the Conservative heartlands of southern England that the cuts agenda is right (for now - the cuts have hardly started; and bear in mind he has done a body swerve on the NHS).
Clegg does not currently have a narrative, and so his personality - which played so well during the general election debates - cannot cut through the "betrayal" story. And he's finding out how well students can transmit electoral hostility now they are effectively 50% of every age cohort.
Ed Miliband? Difficult one this. Labour will be tribally delighted to have stuffed the Libdems in the north of England, ditto Plaid and the independent left in Wales.
But the Scottish defeat poses all kinds of strategic problems for Labour. The big one is obvious: if we now have an independence referendum and Scotland votes yes, that's the end of Labour's traditional arithmetic in Westminster. Even if things don't move that fast, Miliband faces having to take on and shake up the Scottish Labour mafia, which is essentially Brownite and has performed dismally. And then there's England. If the British political situation swings back to the Labour north versus the Tory south, Labour strategists believe the party can never win that game. The decimation of the Libdems merely clears the fog of war for the essential battle to begin, which under any electoral system will always be the Labour fight for the urban south.
Of course, economics plays into this, credibility, specific issues. But if you stand back and squint to see only the main outlines: the strongest and most charismatic party leader in Britain made the biggest gains; the weakest one had a catastrophe.
And despite a positive night at the tactical level in the north, Ed Miliband faces strategic problems that the removal of his adenoids will not make go away.