There is one statistic that stands out ahead of next week’s local elections: the number of candidates being fielded by the UK Independence Party.
In the wake of Ukip’s big surge in the Eastleigh by-election – where it picked up 28 per cent of the votes – several respected psephologists believe the fringe party is in line for further gains among some of the 2,409 seats being contested across the country.
What is striking is that Nigel Farage has found something like 1,700 candidates for the contest on May 2.
Last time these seats were fielded, in 2009, Ukip put up people in 24 per cent of seats. Now the figure is 72 per cent.
By contrast the Lib Dems have gone from contesting 90 per cent of the seats to 73 per cent.
It’s not hard to see why Ukip might perform well: mid-term blues; the Lib Dems no longer being a “protest vote” party; the popularity of their immigration-EU policies with much of the public.
As others have written repeatedly, many naturally Tory-leaning voters are prepared to use their local or European vote to back Ukip – before returning to the Conservatives at general election time. (One of the big questions for 2015 is whether Farage can break out of this cycle.)
This morning I bet one Tory MP (a token 50p) that Ukip would gain more than 50 seats. I bet another one that the party will take more than 30 seats. This is no out of whack with what the experts believe.
Even if Ukip does not take large numbers of council seats it can expect a big fillip in its share of the overall vote.
The other story of the night is a fairly glum batch of news for the main parties. The Tories could lose around 300 seats, which would not be atypical at this point in the Parliament as the pendulum swings away from the governing party. Ditto the Lib Dems could lose over 100 seats, according to some experts.
Labour will hail the seizure of perhaps 300 seats as major progress. But the question is whether Ed Miliband’s party can make inroads in key areas such as Harlow, Ipswich, Stevenage and Crawley.
There are a few which Labour used to hold until 2009 but may struggle to win back: Staffordshire, for example, could be “no overall control”. As a result Miliband may not be held aloft by adoring supporters, as such.
Ultimately this is not a dry run for general election as its on very rural Conservative territory, mostly: Out of 2,409 seats being contested, 1,477 are held by Tories and only 255 by Labour and 480 by Lib Dems.
That is one reason why Ukip may garner the good headlines as it soaks up disgruntled shire Tories.
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