BY Any measure, the Tories success in the Horsham District Council elections has been as decisive as it is historic.

It is hard to recall a time when the Conservatives’ grip on power in the town hall was ever this strong.

With 34 of the 44 seats they have won a landslide mandate. The County Times today congratulates them, and their leader Robert Nye, on their extraordinary success.

For the Lib Dems it is a different story.

Over the past decade they have seen their grip on the council all but evaporate.

This is, of course, largely due to national trends.

The Lib Dems’ coalition with the Tories in central government has outraged many of their supporters.

Furthermore, the failure of their MPs to honour their pre-election pledge to oppose increases in higher education fees has done them incalcuable damage.

But there have been local issues too.

The Lib Dems have failed to provide an alternative vision for the town and district that engages the public imagination. Too often they are bogged down in detail and do not present a broad brush picture of the difference they could make if they won power.

If they are to survive as a party at local level this should change.

And it is in everyone’s interests - even Tory supporters - that it does.

Every council needs an effective opposition to scrutinise and challenge positively. That is the cornerstone of a democracy.

It seems unlikely, despite their best efforts on this occasion, that Labour will ever make a breakthrough here.

So it falls to the Lib Dems in the wake of this result to make a full and comprehensive appraisal of where they went wrong - and what they need to do to bounce back.

That may include rebranding themselves as Independent Liberals.

In the meantime, the Tories can be delighted by their success - not least because it is against a backdrop of tough spending decisions at a national level.

We congratulate them on it.

We commiserate with the Lib Dems.