Progress for Miliband – but not as much as hoped

  • @oliver_wright

Ed Miliband is coming to terms with a disappointing electoral performance by Labour, gaining only 757 council seats in England. In 1981, two years after Margaret Thatcher came to power and in the midst of a recession, Michael Foot regained 988 council seats for Labour. In 1999, at the height of New Labour, William Hague won back 1,348 seats for his party.

Labour strategists had been hoping to present Thursday's election results as evidence of a strong resurgence. Instead they will spend this weekend defending the leadership of Mr Miliband against critics who believe that the party chose the wrong brother last year.

In Scotland, Labour failed to win back control of the Scottish Parliament, losing 10 seats and handing overall control to the SNP. In Wales, it gained only four more seats, and is unable to govern alone.

In Basildon, the party took just a single council seat, and in Worcester – which the party controlled in New Labour's heyday – it lost seats. Even in Doncaster, a Labour heartland which includes Mr Miliband's constituency, the Tories held on to all their nine seats.

Labour highlighted successes in Gravesham in Kent where it won eight seats off the Tories and took control of the council, and Sheffield, where the party won control of the city from a Liberal Democrat minority administration.

In North Warwickshire it took three seats from the Tories to win the council.

But the party will be concerned that it mainly made gains at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Its performance in the key Tory/Labour marginal battlegrounds of the South and Midlands suggested that the Labour message has yet to get through to voters. Labour hoped to make more of an impact by focusing on the Government's cuts. But its share of the vote – about 37 per cent – was only two percentage points ahead of the Tories, at 35 per cent.

Still, they can draw some consolation from holding, as expected, the Leicester South seat in by-election last night. Jon Ashworth won by more than 12,000 votes from the Lib Dems.