The story from the local elections isn’t that Ukip is popular. It’s that Labour is not.

by Atul Hatwal

Last night Labour was busily managing expectations that 150 gains in the local elections would have constituted a good result. Naturally, the final haul is likely to significantly exceed that number, but it is quite extraordinary that a total as low as 150 gains was even vaguely plausible.

The last time most of these council seats were contested was on the same day as the general election, when Labour slumped to its second worst post-war result.

Inevitably the focus for much of the media has been Ukip but the obsession with Farage and his out-sized personality misses the most salient political point: Ukip only exist because Labour is not the vehicle for popular protest.

When Labour previously made the transition from opposition to government, it brought together a voter coalition that extended from the left all the way into parts of the centre right. The breadth of this coalition and its sheer reach wasn’t based on ideology or policy but emotion.

The feeling that voters who may not traditionally have been Labour supporters, could safely lend the party their votes, to teach the Tories a lesson. That even if they disagreed with some aspects of policy, they could confidently project their personal hopes and aspirations onto the party’s leaders and supporting Labour meant backing the winner.

The stardust of success is beguiling. It creates an aura of optimism that lowers voter reservations attracts support. Everyone loves a winner.

But this stardust is missing from today’s Labour party. And in the absence of a confident and successful opposition to challenge a tired and uninspiring government, fringe populism flourishes.

Labour has some successes to point to, notably in London. Taking control in places like Croydon, Redbridge and Hammersmith and Fulham are victories to be celebrated. But even here, it’s worth looking at the underlying driver for victory.

Yes, Labour got its vote out, but the story from too many wards across London is not of wholesale switching from the Tories to Labour but of Ukip cutting into the Tories’ vote and allowing Labour through.

Politics can be a strangely delusional business. If a Labour party supporter with a passing knowledge of past elections had been transported to another dimension immediately after the result in 2010, and then returned to these shores today, there would be no doubt in their assessment: Labour is not doing well enough to win next year.

With the polls already virtually tied, Ukip set to beat Labour into second in the European vote and Labour lagging the Tories by double digits on the economy and leadership, it is almost beyond obvious that the party faces a fundamental crisis.

Yet still activists, MPs and shadow ministers persist in the fantasy that all is fine, Labour is making steady progress and Ed Miliband will be in Number 10 next year.

For anyone who genuinely cares about getting rid of this incompetent and rudderless coalition, these herculean levels of self-deception are more infuriating than anything perpetrated by the government.

As bad as this Tory-led administration is, it is merely behaving to type. No-one would expect the scorpion not to sting, so ventilating endlessly about its poison is almost the definition of pointless.

Labour is the only party that can provide an alternative but is currently in thrall to the instant self-gratification of moral triumphalism and running scared from the tough decisions needed to convince the public that Labour can once again be trusted on the economy.

Decisions that would challenge some of Labour’s core constituencies, but also demonstrate to the public the type of leadership that a Labour government could offer.

Graham Stringer has been featured in the media coverage criticising Labour’s campaign and the uniform reaction on social media from Labour party afficiandos last night was that this was just Stringer being Stringer.

This how entrenched the self-delusion has become.

No comment was made at all on the substance of what Graham Stringer was saying. The points he was making about leadership, a European referendum and the lack of professionalism of Labour’s campaign were all blithely ignored.

Just because Graham Stringer sounds the alarm, doesn’t mean the ship isn’t headed for the iceberg.

These elections are the last major electoral test before the general election. There have been some welcome successes in London, but evidence from this morning’s interviews with senior Labour politicians is that the party’s self-delusion remains intact.

Unless this changes and Labour understands the need to broaden its base of support, reaching back into the centre and directly attracting Tory switchers, next year’s result will be truly dismal.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

Tags: , , , ,

13 Responses to “The story from the local elections isn’t that Ukip is popular. It’s that Labour is not.”

  1. Madasafish says:

    Unless this changes and Labour understands the need to broaden its base of support, reaching back into the centre and directly attracting Tory switchers, next year’s result will be truly dismal.

    Try having a leader who acts and looks like a “normal” human being and when he majors on “the cost of living” actually knows what he spends on his weekly food bill

    So far Mr Miliband has appealed to : the unions, those on benefits and immigrants. He has refused to address immigration and the EU.

    No wonder few “normal” people cannot see him as PM…

    And the looks and sound of the Labour campaign suggest he could not organise a drinking session in a brewery.. As he has never had a real job outside politics, that comes as no surprise.

    Politicians in the UK are largely despised due to insincerity and being out of touch with real people. Mr Miliband epitomises such politicians to a “T”. And the polls show that I am not expressing just my opinion but that of the voters..

  2. David says:

    Garbage. I don’t know of anyone in the party who is complacent. Nervous to be honest. And you have to accept that the era of two party domination is well and truly over. We’re doing ok. Not brilliantly. Not too badly either though, there are some good gains in good parts of the country. And some that aren’t.

    The real problem is that you and so many others are measuring local council results by the amazing results of 1995 or 1989. They were great, but you can’t come to expect them. It remains all to play for, and right now that’s a decent place to be.

  3. just passing says:


    “So far Mr Miliband has appealed to : the unions, those on benefits and immigrants.”

    Wow. You’ve just named the three groups of people most likely to despise him as a turncoat. The unions elected him, only to watch him spend 4 years stabbing them wherever he could get close enough; people on benefits, including me (of whom those on JSA are a tiny minority) have watched his equivocation, pandering, and appointment of people like Liam Byrne and Rachel Reeves to shadow IDS – people whose inclinations are frankly to vote with that odious sociopath; and immigrants have watched him give the whole Blue Labour nationalist thing a platform in what I can only imagine to be incredulous disgust.

    Frankly, if Miliband HAD appealed, directly and unashamedly, to the unions, people on benefits, and immigrants, he’d probably be walking every election for the next 20 years. There are, after all, enough of us in and supportive of those groups who are desperate to have somewhere to put our crosses on election day. But after what Labour did with ESA (and, you know, two illegal wars that were solely responsible for plunging Labour back into the red after it had accumulated a budget surplus by 2003) it’d take a minor miracle to persuade me to ever vote for them again. And much as I’d hoped that Ed Miliband might be the man to change Labour’s course, it’s increasingly clear that he’s not – and I’m not sure that’s entirely down to his own personal failings. The fact that he’s had to appoint to key positions people who openly despise him and all he stands for, people who would apparently rather see Labour lose than Ed lead it to a victory – and I’m looking in Douglas Alexander’s direction there – probably hasn’t helped a great deal. (And don’t get me started on the great Balls-up.)

  4. John Reid says:

    Actually, I reckon with the Libdem vote staying at home labour can get 36% of the vote next year! it’s whether Ukip split the Tory vote and they on
    Y get 34% or whether they get 38%, I don’t think they’ll be much change in Labour or those who would vote Tory /Ukips vote,it’s just the percentages will go up, as the Libdem vote stays at home

  5. Tafia says:

    The reason that Labour is not popular is because it is refusing to accept the reality of life for what should be it’s core vote outside of the south and how these potential voters want it changed. Until it learns that and radically alters it’s position over things like the EU, immigration, non-UK citizens and social housing, school places, benefits and the NHS then it is goosed.

    It has painted itself into a corner and is refusing to accept that not only it has made serious mistakes but that they have got to be reversed.

    How many Labour politicians came on TV and radio 4 today and said we’v e got the message, we’ve listened and then promptly started regurgitating self=same policies that have got them into this mess – all bar one that I heard. If you won’t change your policies then you have not listened and that is how ordinary people view it.

    Should Labour end up the largest party in a hung Parliament next year, they are going to learn some seriously hard facts of life. The Lib Dems have learnt some bitter lessons from their coalition with the tories and they will not make the same mistake twice – they will expect a bigger share pf Cabinet posts and they will insist that their key legislation goes into the first Queens Speech. They will almost certainly also insist Ed Balls is dropped from Cabinet in revenge for his stance post-election 2010 along with a couple of others. And that’s always assuming the Lib Dems aren’t wiped out – they could very well end up trying to form a Coalition with the SNP, Plaid & ulster unionists and their demands would be crippling to Labour. And the last time Labour tried to run a lone minority government without coalition 77-79 they were torn to shreds, made to look very very weak and the country went into economic meltdown.

    So I suggest Labour don’t listen – they actually change their policies in areas where their non-London core vote has major concerns because if they don’t, Miliband will lead the last Labour government for a generation – and that’s provided the tories don’t recover over the next 12 months and end up with a majority themselves.

  6. Vern says:

    Atul, have you forgotten the 13 years of Blair and Brown? The lies, the spin, the burying of bad news, the financial mess, stabbing the working class in the back, uncontrolled immigration, the ever widening gap between rich and poor……….?
    Neither have the electorate, and that is why they stay away from Labour en masse. You need to become credible again and develop policy, underpinned with robust strategy that will be honoured. Trouble is, i just dont think Labour are capable of telling the truth any more.
    As bad as we think this coalition might be – they are still more attractive to many than a return to Labour and the ineptitude that comes as part of the package!

  7. Tafia says:

    This is the BBC’s vote share analysis. The second table reinforces Prof Curtice’s argument that Labour has gone backwards since 2012.

    Overall vote share in key wards across country:
    Labour 32%
    Conservatives 28%
    Lib Dems 16%
    UKIP 15%
    Green 6%
    Other 3%

    Changes in all key wards since 2012:
    Labour: -10%
    Conservative: -1%
    UKIP: +11%
    Green: +2%
    Others: 0

  8. Robert says:

    We should probably remind ourselves that Labour came first in the local elections and would be close to a majority if people voted the same way in a General Election. They will not but Labour also leads in most opinion polls, which is not bad four years into a Parliament and less than a year before the next General Election. We are no longer in mid-term!

    Atul’s comparison with the period before 1997 is meaningless. New Labour faced a Conservative government that had been in power since 1979 (all of my teens and twenties to put it in context). Today’s Labour Party is dealing with a government that was only elected four years ago and is not particularly incompetent to be honest.

  9. aragon says:

    The white working class are abandoning Labour, for UKIP, as they are not listened too, and your solution is to continue to ignore them, and to pursue Tory switchers, who are also going to UKIP?

    Atul solution is always the same and always wrong. When they say politicians are all the same, they mean just that.

    The Labour party in parliament is populated by Middle-Class (used to be known as Upper class), who have no conception, or interest in what ordinary peoples lives are like, their aspirations or values.

    Labour is also loosing on the Economy, so Ed Balls matches the Tories spending plans, for at least a year. Just the same.

    Politics is on another planet from the ordinary voter, and their attitudes out of this world!

    The only remaining options for people are apathy, and a protest vote for UKIP.

  10. John Reid says:

    In low turnout elections like council ones, especially like ones on the same day as EU elections Labours results re always going to be odd, 2004 EU election were n the same day as London’s Mayor one,as such Ukip got GLA members, the 2010 general election saw us fight tooth and. Ail not to let the Tories won the election and we held marginal seats like Highate, resulting in us doing better than we would have and the last council election on the same day as the General election affected the result.

    London has always been different to the rest of the UK, except in middle liberal class areas , the liberal democrats do badly in London, even post their anti Iraq stance increasing Their vote, London has always turned up a few surprises and the turnout from 30% to 44% can’t really show the feelings of the public,

    The. Most important thing for Labour if we can carry it off next year,is the collapse in the Tory vote, OK in 2010 they had a surge due to the general election last year, and the small Ukip increase in London did take some of their votes away, but in real terms the fall in the Tory vote is incredible compared to Labour keeping it’s vote, resulting in us winning seats by keeping our vote up,

  11. Les Abbey says:

    Ukip only exist because Labour is not the vehicle for popular protest.

    But would this change if Labour behaved more like the Tories as Atul and his buddies seem to want. The popular protest is against the Westminster bubble in which New Labour and Blair firmly placed Labour. Possibly if Labour started acting like a real social democratic party again they would become Atul’s missing vehicle, although if they did this I guess Atul and Progress would be looking for another bus.

  12. Tafia says:

    American commentary this evening:-

    In France, exit polls setting the anti-immigrant, far right National Front up for its first success in a national election.

    In Greece, exit polls had the far-left SYRIZA party leading with 26-30 per cent of the vote, ahead of the ruling conservative New Democracy Party. SYRIZA, whose leader, Alexis Tsipras, is running for European Commission president, has campaigned vociferously against the austerity that was part of the EU’s response to its economic crisis.

    In Austria, the right-wing FPOe came in third with 20 per cent, while the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party was set to take the biggest share of the vote in that Nordic country, according to exit polls and initial projections.

    In Finland, the anti-immigrant True Finns party was projected to win two of the country’s 13 seats in the European Parliament, adding one seat to its previous tally.

    In Germany, the far-right National Democratic Party – which has many overtly neo-Nazi supporters – could be on course to win its first seat in the legislature, according to projections. Germany’s anti-euro Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) is also set to make its debut in the parliament after capturing 6.5 per cent of the German vote, a public television exit poll showed.


  13. BenM says:

    Wow. How out of date and out of touch does this article look now?!

    “Ukip only exist because Labour is not the vehicle for popular protest.”

    You couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Leave a Reply