The polls have just closed. A phrase we’re perhaps quite accustomed to these days.
All day, voters in many parts of England and in Northern Ireland have been casting their ballots, expressing their views on the politicians who had put themselves up for scrutiny, stepping forward for the chance to be part of important decisions about our communities – on housing, the transport we use, the care provided to the youngest and oldest in our society.
Each and every area will have its own many stories, each of us our own motivations for which box, or none, we tick. What happens in towns, villages and cities, and the decisions made by town halls and councillors has a huge bearing, of course, on these results.
These elections are not taking place everywhere, so the results can’t and won’t give us a complete geographical picture. Turnout tends to be low in council elections, so in that sense too, the results are not representative of the whole voting public in the same way as a general election, where many millions more of us take part.
Not all of the parties are even standing. Neither of the two new arrivals, Change UK and the Brexit Party, are taking part.
And quite fittingly in a country like ours, there are plenty of quirks. In one Surrey borough for example, the residents’ association party has held control for years and years and anyone else can pretty much forget their chances of getting a look in. In Cheshire West and Chester, the kind of area where general elections are traditionally won and lost, the lines of the map have been redrawn this time round, so it’s still a fight between Labour and the Tories, but in a different way.
Whatever happens in the next 24 hours as the results emerge, bear in mind that the results of these local elections are not a beautifully clear, let alone reliable, crystal ball that will reveal the future. But these contests are an enormous set of elections, much bigger than the normal set of local ballots, and an important chance to test how the craziness of our national politics right now is going down with the public.
Polling matters of course, and goodness knows, there is plenty of that about. Recent surveys are certainly not pretty reading for the government, nor do they suggest their main opponents, Labour, streaking ahead. They are a useful but only hypothetical guide to the currents of the public’s thinking.
Real votes in real elections are what count, and tonight’s a real chance to get a flavour of what the Great British voting public really thinks.
We’ll be on air as the results come in overnight, on BBC Newslight, with loads of coverage online too.