But the real message from the results must be the success of the BNP. In Lewisham they got 10% of the vote from a standing start. We lost 10% and the other parties traded marginally. Easy to suggest that this is 10% transferring direct from Lib Dem to BNP and of course that isn't always the case, but there will have been a large chunk who did just that.
In NW Leicestershire, the BNP came third with 28% from a standing start. The Lib Dem came 4th losing 19% of the previous vote. Without being on the ground, it is impossible to say what the causes were but I would suspect that we didn't run a hugely active campaign there.
And in Sevenoaks the BNP came from nothing to win with 42% of the vote as Dale notes. This was gained from UKIP and Labour as the Tories held steady and no Lib Dem stood this time or last.
So why are the BNP winning so many votes (if not more than the occasional seat)? In my opinion they are certainly picking up the 'against all' votes that may previously have come to the Lib Dems or Greens. These tend to be people who feel it is their duty to vote but are so hacked off with the Government and whoever is running their local council that they are not going to vote for any of the 'established' parties. They may deliberately vote for an outside party to give them a kick up the backside. In the past this was usually the Lib Dems. Now it isn't. Why? Clearly a thesis could be written here, but fundamentally we have stopped being against things and are all too often part of the establishment. This is understandable if we hold power - but it is still possible to campaign in favour of changes even if we sit behind the biggest desks at the town hall. And we can and must campaign against the Government - even in Council polls.
What is less understandable is where we are in opposition but still act as apologists for the administration. Let's face it - why should anyone vote for us if we fail to offer a real alternative.
The BNP are also learning (to a small degree) about campaigning. Whatever us political hacks think about them and their policies, the image they portray to voters is as a group sticking up for them - not racists, but on the side of local families. There's not a lot of depth to that message, but then not many people (including not many of their voters) want to see the BNP running anything. They just want change and they see the BNP as a way of delivering that.
So how to approach the BNP?
There is the Labour version which basically says you should march and demonstrate against the very prospect of the BNP standing in your area. Don't engage them and certainly don't debate them. Just get people to vote 'against the BNP'. In my opinion this is a stupid way of proceeding - particularly for Lib Dems. I hate the BNP but they are a legal party who have the right to express their opinions. If we debate with them then we will show them up to be vacuous fools. If we don't then, at a stroke, we dismiss all those who vote or consider voting for them as not worthy of our time either.
And the Labour line tends to obscure the regular election campaigning so that the only choice to the BNP becomes the established party - and that usually ain't us.
In his interview with Dale for Total Politics, Dave the Bin Man has his own take saying that the BNP are an excrescence. Once again, saying that a party is shit implies that anyone who considers voting for them is shit too. Thank you very much for your adult politics Mr Cameron. I think this is Cameron trying to avoid any Labour smear of him being soft on 'the racist/facist BNP'. So he feels the need to deride them in his opening breath.
But having got that over with, Cameron at least recognises that the best way to beat the BNP is to campaign against them. He says:
"the way to defeat it is to campaign actively on the ground. Pavement politics.
People turn to extreme parties if they think they have been forgotten by the
mainstream parties. That doesn't mean running towards issues they are
campaigning on, it means running towards the people that they are talking to and
showing you are listening to their concerns, taking up their issues and working
for them. You have to show that no part of the country, no part of your
constituency, no ward, that no housing estate is forgotten. That's the key
thing. Eric Pickles is an expert on this and has helped teach me this lesson"
In many cases the Lib Dems could do well to heed Cameron's advice (except the bit about Eric Pickles, obviously)