This post extends on Sam Duncan’s point made in the comments:
looking at the raw numbers (that is, without the context of the previous local elections) it's basically a pretty solid Tory win. Not a landslide by any means - at a 28% vote share they were neck-and-neck with Labour - but 3,562 seats is still over 1,000 more than Labour and almost <em>three times</em> what the LibDems won. And they still hold almost 100 of the councils that were contested, compared to the Libs' 18. Of course, <em>in</em> context it was a deservedly awful night for them, and a good one for Vince's mob, but these things are relative. People are talking as if - no, they're actually <em>saying</em> - the LibDems won. They absolutely didn't. Not even close.
Here are the seats won (from BBC, results may not be completely up-to-date, but are close to the end result):
The LibDems won 1351 out of 8410 seats, which is 16%. They won 2200 seats less than the Tories, and over 650 less than Labour. They only just won more than ‘Others’. And this was despite the Conservative national government being absolutely reviled by their own supporters, and Labour voters deserting their party in droves. Supporters of the traditional parties stayed away in massive numbers yet the LibDems still came a distant third. I don’t call that victory. It may have been a disastrous night for Tories, and a very bad one for Labour, but the LimpDicks still lost big.
I’ll have to have a look at the absolute numbers when they come out, which will make things clearer, but it looks to me like what happened is that the usual small amount of LibDem voters turned out, while a lot of voters for the big two didn’t. It doesn’t look like it was the case that voters who had previously voted Conservative and Labour switched to the LibDems. That’s what a lot of people seem to be assuming, and when you see the percentage data for each council it’s easy to think that’s what happened, but I don’t think it did. The same old people voted for the LibDems, it’s just that the LibDems then benefited from the lower turnout, or the spoiled ballots, from former ‘big two’ voters. But there were still far more voters for the big two than the LibDems despite all that.
If the LibDems can’t pick up voters in that scenario then that indicates that the LibDems have no hope of ever improving their lot.
It also indicates that there aren’t many votes for a Remainer party. The LibDems are practically the official Remain party, and Remainers are fanatics who will always turn out to vote whenever possible, yet 16% in the local elections, which always have small turnouts, was all they can get? Remain is a dead duck electorally.
It is true that things will get even worse, much worse, for the Tories in the Euros because then there will be alternatives that many of their voters will vote for instead of them (or instead of staying home, or instead of spoiling their ballots). But things will also get worse, far worse, for the LibDems, because the same people will vote for them then, only those people will constitute a smaller percentage of the turnout for that vote. And no-one else will vote for them. And some of their regular voters might even vote for the CUKs.
The worst night of all, however, was had by UKIP. There are excuses that can be made for them, of course: the media has stitched them up, they didn’t run that many candidates, their vote gets spread rather than clustered in particular seats which they then win, and so on, but the sad fact is that the situation was tailor-made for them, and they totally failed to capitalise. That for me is the saddest part of the local results.
Update: Here’s some typical BS LibDem spin from Tim Farron:
Dear Theresa and Jeremy. If you think that your drubbing at the hands of the Liberal Democrats is a sign that the people want you to ‘get on and deliver Brexit’ then I suspect you aren’t really paying attention…
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) May 3, 2019