Over the last 43 years I’ve taken part in local elections first delivering leaflets, then as a canvasser, then a candidate, an election agent and latterly as a commentator and broadcaster. They never fail to surprise and entertain, and this year was no different.

Over the years you can see patterns emerging. Generally, the party in power does badly in local elections, although there have been exceptions to this. But there are always surprises, and that’s what makes these election nights exciting. When I say ‘nights’ this year it turned into a ‘weekend’. Because there was the possibility of a general election taking place, electoral registration officers booked local sports halls and venues for several days rather than just overnight on Thursday to Friday. As a consequence some of the counts didn’t take place until Saturday afternoon. I don’t approve of this. There is such a thing as the security of the ballot, and the longer ballot boxes are stored away, the more there is a chance that they could be interfered with.

All parties look for trends in local results and then try to extrapolate them to see what portents there might be for a general election. This is more the case this year given the general will probably take place within the next seven months. So let’s look at how the different parties performed.

All in all 2,644 local council seats were up for grabs, along with a dozen mayoralties and forty odd police and crime commissioners.

These council seats were last fought in 2021 and it proved to be a very good year for the Conservatives, who claimed to have just ‘got Brexit done’ and were reaping the political rewards of the vaccine rollout. They were defending 989 seats and were widely tipped to lose 500 of them. In the end they lost 474. Labour started with roughly the same number as the Conservatives but ended up with 186 gains. This is far fewer than the 400 the pundits were predicting. Their performance in the north west probably cost them another 50 gains, where they faced opposition from candidates opposing the national policy on Gaza.

The one aspect of the results which may not have had enough media coverage was the performance of the LibDems. They ended the counts on 522 councillors, seven more than the Conservatives, having gained 104. So in councillors they came second to Labour. Last year they outperformed expectations by miles, and this year they did the same. Also, in vote share, they scored 15%, way above their opinion poll ratings, which continue to nudge 10%.

The Greens made 74 gains, which is a figure not to be sniffed at, but perhaps didn’t match the expectations they had set at the outset. The Greens talk a good game, but still have a minute number of councillors compared to the other parties.

The mayoral contests went largely as expected, with Ben Houchen providing the only positive note for the Conservatives achieving more than 50% of the vote in Tees Valley. You could almost hear the sighs of relief emanating from Downing Street. But that was as good as it got. York and North Yorkshire went Labour, as did the East Midlands. Sadiq Khan won an emphatic victory in London, and then came the big one – the West Midlands. Labour had reportedly pulled all their people from Tees Valley and sent them all to Birmingham for the final week of the campaign. This proved to be an astute decision with their somewhat charismatically challenged candidate pulling through by a majority of only 1,500 votes.

So what does it all mean? This was undoubtedly the worst Conservative performance in living memory and no one can spin it any other way. Rishi Sunak won’t be able to get away with coming out with the usual trite phrases about ‘getting on with the job’ and ‘delivering for the British people’. A reshuffle won’t change anything. There is something in the charge that he is leading a Zombie government, lurching its way towards a general election. The Tories are too tired to even launch a putsch. There simply isn’t any appetite for it. They’re not just physically tired out, they have run out of mental agility too. Knackered parties do not win elections.

Labour will be euphoric about winning back councils like Redditch, and winning others, like Rushmoor, for the first time ever. But they also know there are quite a few councils they should have won back – like Harlow – but didn’t. Their 35% national vote share was way below their average opinion poll rating in the low forties. They will have been jolted by the Sky News analysis that showed on the basis of these results Labour would be short of a majority in a general election.

The LibDems will certainly have their peckers up, winning in areas like my home town of Tunbridge Wells. Their aim in a general election is to regain their position as Britain’s third biggest party in Parliament. On this performance they are on their way to doing that, and I predict that they will at least double their parliamentary representation.

Of course, the dog that didn’t bark in these elections was Reform UK, mainly because they only stood in 1 in 6 council seats. They did gain a seat on the London Assembly, though. Their national opinion poll rating is improving all the time and this week they came within 3 per cent of the Conservatives. I hear whispers that Nigel Farage will, in a fortnight, announce his re-entry into the political world and take over the leadership of Reform UK. If that happens, the Conservatives should be afraid. Very afraid.