What the local election results show
Forget the sneering headlines from the mainstream media, including the BBC. For instance the Daily Express screamed “END OF CORBYN: Furious Labour supporters call for leader to QUIT after election disaster.” The article goes on to quote unnamed (of course!) Labour supporters. Since when has the Express been in close touch with the inmost feelings of Labour supporters?
Let’s look a little closer at Labour’s ‘election disaster’. Labour holds more council seats than all the other parties put together, Labour had the best local results since 1971. A BBC study shows that, on the basis of the May 2018 results, Labour would be the biggest Party in parliament, ahead of the Tories. On this showing Labour has made further headway in the polls since the 2017 general election. The gains are also an improvement on the high point of the 2014 local elections, which led commentators to predict Labour would win the 2015 general election.
But local election results are not a direct reflection of what might happen in a general election. Though exact figures vary, local turnout is about 35%, about half that of a general election vote of 70%. Who is less likely to show up at the polls? Young people were enthused in 2017 by Corbyn’s leadership and our programme, For the Many, Not the Few to vote for the first time ever. They were less likely to show up for a contest about bin collections and the like. One disappointing result was when Labour failed to gain Brunel ward in Hillingdon. Brunel is dominated by the university and the students were in the middle of exams.
What of the other disappointing results, when we failed to gain Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Barnet? These were all moon shots. Labour last took Wandsworth in 1978. Labour did made gains there. By some reckoning we won the popular vote, but Labour votes were not enough to unseat the Tories. We have never held Kensington and Chelsea or Westminster. We made headway this time, but these immensely prosperous boroughs always amounted to a mountain to climb.
Labour has been hampered by constant attacks by the Tory press – which we expect - and further hamstrung by incessant and unprecedented sniping by Labour’s right wing. They would sooner destroy the Party’s prospects than see Labour prosper under Corbyn’s leadership. In particular they have concocted the myth that the Party is awash with antisemitism. This is deliberately intended to do damage to Labour’s chances. Has it worked?
Take the case of Barnet, the London borough with the highest proportion of Jewish voters. Doesn’t the result there show that ‘Labour’s antisemitism’ was Labour’s downfall? That’s what we are told over and over again. In fact other areas with heavy Jewish populations such as Redbridge have shown a strong swing to Labour.
Labour has never held Barnet previously either. But Labour’s share of the vote has been creeping up David Rosenberg has posted the results: 2006 - 28.4%, 2010 – 30.8%, 2014 - 36.3%, 2018 - 39.0%. Yes, contrary to what you have read, Labour’s vote in Barnet increased in 2018. Barnet has been run by an ‘Easy’ Tory council which has privatised almost all the local services. This should have provided a sitting duck for the opposition. In fact right wing Labour in Barnet fluffed their chance to sweep the Tories away.
The Lib-Dems are supposed to have had a good night. In reality their gains just clawed back some of the losses they inflicted upon themselves when they went into coalition with the Conservatives and imposed austerity upon the nation. UKIP was virtually wiped out. It seems about two thirds of their former supporters went to the Tories, while the rest voted Labour.
So the Tories had a wretched night, despite the ex-UKIP bonanza. Does that mean Labour is set fair to win the next general election? Labour is neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls at present. That is not good enough. Disappointing results, particularly in the north and midlands, are a warning sign.
Why did not enough people go out and vote Labour? To put it another way why should people vote en masse for a Labour local authority? What was on offer? In most cases, nothing. Most Labour councils have gone along with Tory-imposed austerity. Corbyn’s inspiring language and the programme of the 2017 contest was nowhere to be seen and heard this year. These were local campaigns fought on local issues. In the midlands and the north Party activists were campaigning in too many cases for rotten, monolithic Labour councils who have taken working class people’s loyalty and votes for granted for decades. In Derby for instance, where Labour lost its overall majority, the right wing councillors chose to pick a fight with the teaching assistants.
Labour councils are in dire straits. My local authority, Ealing, has suffered a 64% cut in government funding since 2010. That means local councils just cannot carry on ‘as usual’. They have to develop a strategy to fight the cuts or they will inevitably be blamed for the decline in services.
What about the new Labour councillors? There has been a struggle behind the scenes by the old guard running Labour councils to stem the tide of enthusiastic Corbynistas running as council candidates. There have been gains for the left, but many have been excluded from the decision-making process. How much change does the new intake represent? On past experience many new councillors will struggle to make their mark against an entrenched right wing Labour establishment. They will be under enormous pressure to conform. Only in Haringey, where the monstrous Haringey Development Vehicle produced an earthquake of opposition to the council leadership, does it seem that there been a definitive renewal of Labour locally.
We want and need a majority Corbyn-led Labour government. The present result is not good enough. A hung Parliament, with Labour dependent on the votes of the Lib-Dems and other odds and sods, would be a massive disappointment for the millions who see a vote for Labour as a vote for fundamental change.
We’re getting there. But we’re not there yet. The fact is that Labour has not yet had a fundamental transformation under Corbyn’s leadership. Too many of the old gang cling on in local councils, in Parliament and in the Party’s bureaucracy. We still have much to do and a long way to go. We believe that we can do it.