By far the best thing about the election result is just how badly the Tories have done. In terms of their overall share of the vote, they have 33 per cent, which means they have put on just over a single percentage point since 2001 and just two-and-a-half percentage points since 1997. (In 1992, John Major won 42 per cent of the popular vote.) The xenophobe parties to the Tories’ right – UKIP, Veritas, the BNP – won nothing in the way of seats but remain a thorn in the Tories’ side: they took roughly 3 per cent of the popular vote overall despite Michael Howard’s “dog whistle” campaign.
The picture is even grimmer for the Tories when you look at their results in individual constituencies. Half their 36 gains are in suburban London (Enfield Southgate, Ilford North, Hornchurch, Bexleyheath and Crayford, Croydon Central, Wimbledon, Putney, Hammersmith and Fulham) and in the commuter towns around the capital (St Albans, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes North East, Welwyn Hatfield, Braintree, Gravesham, Guildford, Newbury, Reading East). Elsewhere they have had slender pickings at best, doing utterly miserably in the midlands, the north and Scotland and not much better in East Anglia and Kent, on the south coast, in the south-west and in Wales. Labour retained dozens of seats that were safe Tory throughout the Thatcher and Major years.
The Tories also failed to create very many new marginals – "one more heave" will yield very little next time – and dropped from second to third place in Labour-held seats in many urban areas. The Lib Dems are now the main challengers to incumbent Labour MPs nearly everywhere in inner London: they went from third to second in Brent South, Dulwich, Greenwich, Hackney North, Lewisham Deptford, Lewisham West, Leyton, Tottenham and Walthamstow. Outside London, the trend is patchier, but the Tories lost second place to the Lib Dems in Birkenhead, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Birmingham Ladywood, Birmingham Perry Bar, Bradford North, Burnley, Derby South, Doncaster Central, Huddersfield, Hull West, Knowsley North, Leeds Central, Leeds East, Leeds West, Norwich South, Northampton East, Rotherham, St Helens North, Sheffield Attercliffe, Sheffield Brightside and Stoke-on-Trent Central.
All lists in this post are less than definitive. But it's clear that whoever takes over from Howard has an almighty job to turn the Tories into credible challengers for office. Which is excellent news for everyone but the Tories.