I do admire the Labour supporters who have been suggesting that last week's election results weren't so bad. But the best comment I saw was this, from Crawley:
"Yes the vote did not collapse completely as predicted, and with so many seats being close, turnouts so low and so many parties involved the effect of small movements can be magnified and result in a disproportionate loss of seats, but that is not the end of the story. In that context maintaining our vote is akin to the last-minute goal a team scores when it is six-nil down - a consolation goal.
When we lost a few seats in 2004 and had our majority reduced it could have been an anomaly or the start of a trend. I think we chose to put the blinkers on and treat it as a fluke. When we lost a few more seats and lost the majority by the drawing of lots it should have been obvious that it was not a fluke, but I am not so sure we really took it seriously enough."
Looking at the headline figures of gains and losses per council is in many ways misleading, and if you look at local results in marginal constituencies, a pattern emerges which is common to areas where we lost and where we held steady or even made a couple of gains. The wards we won were characterised by a low turnout, and relatively small majorities - it is rare that we were getting more than about 60% of the vote. Meanwhile, in the strong Tory wards, turnout was much higher, and they were getting a huge proportion of the vote - 70% or even more. In Pangbourne ward, part of Reading West - a seat they need to get an overall majority, they got 742 votes, and Labour got 48. Therefore, even where we won as many wards as the Tories, they still got a huge lead in the overall vote.
There is no direct link between a midterm election and the next general election - in 2005 we held several constituencies last time in places like Watford and Swindon where our number of councillors had declined massively between 2001 and 2005. But there is cumulative electoral effect from a collapse in our councillor base. As Skuds says, the results aren't a fluke and are part of a trend which has an increasing impact for the longer it goes on.
This is not a panic message. There are councillors and activists all across their country who won't recognise this analysis, because they've been keeping in touch with voters, doing casework, building up the voter ID, and getting consistently good results this year as in previous years (just as there are people who have been doing all of these things but lost this year due to circumstances beyond their control). But it is desperately patchy, and we simply don't have enough people doing the necessary things in the right places to win an overall majority at the next election.
There are many things that can be done to rectify this. Just for a starter, new members will be able to vote in the leadership election right up until ballot papers are issued. From all the canvassing that's been going on, we know of thousands of people who support Labour. I can't think of a better time to write to them and ask them whether they want to join up and help us choose the next Prime Minister.