The BBC summarises the results here. The main headline results are of course that UKIP pushed Labour into 3rd place, the BNP won 2 seats and Labour was pushed into 2nd place in Wales by the Tories. The last time Labour failed to be the most popular party in Wales, David Lloyd George was the Prime Minister.
Certainly this is a truly dire result for Labour, an encouraging result for UKIP and a worrying boost for the BNP, but it seems to me there is more going on than that.
Consider the votes for the “established” parties. The Tories, Lib Dems, Labour and, (in Scotland and Wales) the SNP and Plaid Cymru, collectively got 60% of the vote.
40% has gone to UKIP, the Greens, the BNP and a myriad of small parties and independents. In 2004 (summary here), the “established” parties collectively got 66.6% of the vote. If you take just Labour + Tories + Lib Dems the percentage of the vote in 2009 was 57.1% vs 64.2% in 2004. Clearly people have become a lot less inclined to vote for the established parties in these elections.
Also, if we sum the votes for the parties that advocate withdrawal from the EU, that is UKIP + the BNP + NO2EU + the English Democrats + the Socialist Labour Party + United Kingdom First, the total is 27.1%, almost as much as the Tories achieved. Add the Tories’ votes, and you have a clear majority (54.8%) voting for parties that are either EU sceptic or outright anti-EU.
Now, consider the Tory vote itself. The Tories will of course be glad to have “won” this election and to have pushed Labour into 2nd place in Wales. However, they polled fewer votes than they did in 2004. The Labour vote has collapsed, with many voters just staying at home and the rest migrating to fringe parties. This election is thus more a rejection of Labour than it is an endorsement of the Tories. The Tories clearly have some way to go to gaining the electorate’s trust, though at least they can say their vote has held up well compared to Labour and the Lib Dems as the electorate sidle off to non-mainstream parties.
However, a word of caution must be raised, since the turnout, at 34.2% is very low, lower than the 38% achieved in 2004 and lower than the turnouts for general elections. Indeed this is the prime reason for the BNP’s success – in both the regions where it won seats, it polled slightly fewer votes than in 2004, but the lower turnout enabled them to obtain seats as their percentage share was boosted. A high turnout might well have prevented the BNP from gaining any seats. A general election in Britain would clearly see a different picture, more like the picture in the local elections, where Labour were hammered and the Tories obtained 38% of the vote and the Lib Dems held steady.