Uh oh Jeremy Corbyn. Three lessons from Labour’s below par locals result

by Atul Hatwal

Leaders own their party’s results. Labour’s surprise tally in last year’s general election was Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph. He deserved the bouquets. Following this year’s below par showing for Labour in the local elections, he will similarly merit the brickbats.

In one sense, it seems unfair to cast this as a poor night for Labour – seats were won, the overall number of councillors went up. Expectations might have been over-inflated in terms of taking councils such as Kensington and Westminster, but progress was made and Labour was starting from a very high base.

But in politics you’re either going forward or falling back and to have a chance of forming a government at the next election, Labour needed a lot more from these results.

First, some context – last year, Labour over-performed expectations in the general election but still fell 61 seats short of a majority. To have any semblance of stability a government needs a majority of at least 30 (John Major’s 1992 administration soon fell apart despite starting the parliament with a majority of 21), probably nearer 40. This means Labour is roughly 100 seats short of what’s required to govern.

Yesterday’s local election results demonstrated nothing like the breakthrough Labour requires to call itself a government-in-waiting. Three lessons are evident: Labour’s badly needs Tory switchers, ground organisation alone isn’t enough and Brexit dangers now lurk with the party so reliant on Remainers to buttress its vote.

Given the deadlock between Labour and the Tories at 40%-ish each in the polls, for the past year, there seems to be limited scope to boost Labour’s vote share by further attracting non-voters or squeezing minor parties. Certainly not enough votes in the right places to secure an extra 100 seats.

The only route through for Labour is to win the support of people who are currently Tory voters.

However, there is a disconnect in the leadership’s psyche as to why anyone could countenance an act as egregious as voting Tory. The notion of actively trying to attract Tory voters is an alien concept within today’s party.

The result has been a shrill Labour message cast in moral absolutes. The top line of Jeremy Corbyn’s eve of poll op-ed in the Mirror was, “Tory austerity has almost certainly increased the death rate.

Calling Tory voters, the people Labour needs to win an election, accomplices to murder is quite a way to open a conversation about switching.

Over the past weeks, the party has had an army of footsoldiers knocking doors but the evidence of yesterday’s vote is that organisation without a message that resonates with switchers, will not win Labour power. The party has to have a better offer than singing ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ repeatedly at this group.

Labour’s failure to expand its base since last year’s general election means it is electorally even more reliant on its urban, Remainer core.

Europe isn’t normally a salient electoral issue (outside of Brexit fanatics’ dreams) but in the coming year, the debate on the economy will be through the prism of Brexit. The narrative that is already prevalent within Labour supporters’ ranks – that Britain’s rising economic problems are the result of Brexit – will become an article of faith.

This brings danger for Jeremy Corbyn’s Eurosceptic leadership – he’s been all things to all people so far on Brexit. But parliamentary votes will require hard choices, particularly on staying in the Single Market (or an equivalent arrangement).

This won’t be seen as a vote about Europe but the future of the British economy.

Jeremy Corbyn might be personally opposed to remaining in the Single Market but he will be taking a huge risk with Labour’s core vote if he seals the terms of a Tory Brexit by whipping Labour to vote against cross-party amendments that would keep the UK in the Single Market.

He would then own the economic fall-out and all that brings in terms of grassroots anger among Labour supporters.

The challenge facing Corbyn is all the steeper given what is about to happen to party unity following these results.

In many ways, the Labour party at Westminster is fundamentally broken.

The majority of Labour’s MPs are deeply opposed to the leadership on one or more of it’s handling of anti-Semitism, Brexit, foreign affairs and defence. Several view the prospect of a Corbyn premiership as a threat to national security.

The overwhelming view among parliamentarians from across Labour’s political spectrum is that the leader’s office , while not as shambolic as those early days of November 2015 when the lobby live tweeted reshuffle discussions by listening at the door, remains a long way from competent.

Factionalism, personal grudges and an inability to make quick decisions define the manner in which Jeremy Corbyn’s office interacts with his MPs and Lords.

Since the general election, the momentum of the result and Labour’s burgeoning membership has muted dissent.

As always for Labour leaders, electoral success is the glue for party unity. The combination of the depth of division within Labour and last night’s disappointing results presages a fractious and bitter new phase in Labour’s rolling civil war.

One that will be fought against the backdrop of political stalemate with an enfeebled Tory administration and a rising number of questions as to why a decisive lead remains out of Labour’s reach.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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35 Responses to “Uh oh Jeremy Corbyn. Three lessons from Labour’s below par locals result”

  1. Jane says:

    You also should have mentioned those long term labour voters who have switched to the conservatives because of Jeremy Corbyn. Us oldies have followed his antics over the years as well as those around him like JMcD etc. I could write thousands of words on what he did that offended me and the current policies which frighten me to death. I am also must upset at how the party target those MPs who do not support the leadership. John Woodcock has been treated shamefully in the past week with a deliberate leak to the press which allowed the new party heirarchy to remove the whip even though this action was not approved some months ago by the disciplinary panel.

    I was loyal during the years of militant tendency and the ghastly manifesto of 1983. My husband was a serving Royal Naval Officer at that time too. The current leadership are a trifle more clever but I can see through them. They have taken over a great party, allowed all the hard left groups to join with their antisemetic views. Some of the shadow front bench team are disgraceful epitomised by Richard Burgon’s tweet this week about the new home secretary. Hilarious coming from an Oxbridge Educated lawyer who got his seat courtesy of his employer and his family.

    Sorry – but my vote has gone. It was the most difficult decision I have ever taken and my parents would turn over in their graves at it. I loathe the labour leadership, their promises, the cost to the taxpayer, their denigrating of aspiration (Sajid David), the consequences to the economy if they ever become a government (I am an investor in the stock market). Its OK though as someone older (today Owen Jones blames me for being relaible in voting) and some MPs blame me for Brexit (I voted remain). A few years ago when E Miliband was leader, Caroline Flint et al started a discussion about wiinning back older voters. Lots of very positive contributions were made. The current leadership are only interested in the u/25s who of course will take any free offers made such as travel and tuition fees (lie). Winning the votes of older people means not making promises that would increase the national debt. Not nationalising public services such as rail etc. We have lived through services under public ownership and they were absolutely dreadful. Lots of staff, lots of strikes and poor, poor service. Further, why should poor people who do not use railways subsidise commuters in the South East? I could go on but I will not. At a time when the government is under the cosh, Brexit, no decent policies, resignations etc, the Labour Party under someone like Liz Kendal, Yvette Cooper etc would have won thousands of seats last night. They would also win the next election. Not this leadership…..

  2. Anne says:

    I largely agree with this article, although I feel that it was more a case of the Tories haggling on than Labour not doing as well, although it has the be said that Labour has done well in Manchester winning Trafford – now this is Andy Burnham’s territory and Andy is very popular.
    I feel that if Labour is to progress the current leadership has got to do more to unite the party. It also is not good enough for Len Macuskey talking of deselections – it really does domonstrate how out of touch they are. The Labour Party is more than momentum and unite union.

  3. James says:

    I last voted Labour in 2005. Since then they have drifted even further away from me; I would class myself as a centrist. I voted for Cameron’s Conservatives because he moved his party closer to my views, though not perfect. The coalition government was, for its faults, one of the best and most liberal governments we’ve had in decades – had it been on the ballot I would have voted for its continuance.

    I voted remain and I blame Labour for the loss in the referendum – Corbyn and any meaningful Labour leadership was totally absent. Had they canvassed with the same vigour as last year’s election remain would have won. They can never be forgiven for that betrayal.

    So despite the Brexit mess of this government, my conclusion is that a Labour government under the current leadership would be even worse. I cannot countenance voting for a party led by Corbyn, Milne et al. I suspect many others feel the same.

    In 2005 the Tories were never going to win until it won over voters like me. The same is true of Labour now, and the more I am insulted for my voting habits the less likely it will be that I vote for them again.

  4. Chris Crookes says:

    I think this article is an interesting example of what is occurring in Britain specifically but in the mass-media generally. The article starts off by making a questionable (or inaccurate?) statement that completely ignored one rather huge issue. I think that omission is very revealing, because its an omitted (avoided?) issue that has had more column inches devoted to it in recent days than any other — both in the press and on TV. I think that shows it must be a calculated and deliberate omission.

    The questionable (or inaccurate?) statement was that only one person merits the brickbats for Labours recent local election results. Its a statement that the headline of the article already prepared its readers into accepting. But its obviously untrue. There are many factors that result in any electoral outcome. I personally have seen many posts on social media saying that voters who passionately support Corbyn sadly won’t be voting for their local Labour councillors because they believe thay have done such a poor job, etc.

    The other reason why Labour results maybe were not as good as expected/predicted(?) is the one that this inaccurate statement — and the whole article — so noticeably avoided mentioning. The ‘news story’ that the organs of mass-media have been relentlessly putting in front of the electorate is the dubious and over-inflated accusations of rampant anti-semitism in the Labour Party combined with the false accusation that Corbyn himself is soft on it. The ‘news’ that that this article so blatantly ignores is that there has been the usual cabal of Corbyn’s own PLP repeatedly keeping the smouldering embers of this bogus story bursting renewed into flames in order to discredit their own leadership. Overtly pro-Israel supporters such as Ruth Smeeth, Chucka Umana, John Mann, Joan Ryan and all the others have been stabbing him — and their own Party — in the back for weeks now. Actually not weeks, its been going on for all the years since he was elected leader.
    This is the taboo topic, the elephant-in-the-room, the unmentionable but obviously influential aspect of the pre-election run-up. Viz. that pro-Israeli, zionist and Jewish-Labour, Blarite cliques/lobbies have been exerting all their collective efforts to discredit Corbyn and his supporters in order to damage his prospects as Labour Leader and potential future Prime Minister. If that means damaging Labour’s prospects they appear to have accepted that as a price worth paying to keep a human-rights dedicated person from getting into No.10.
    I.e. they will do anything — including sabotaging their own party — to keep a supporter of Palestinian human rights OUT of office.
    THIS is the story that no main-stream news media will mention or report.

  5. Henrik says:

    Thank Marx and Engels for @Chris Crookes’ insight. It was the JEWS! It all makes sense, now.

    I really do hope you guys get all this bad stuff sorted out soon, otherwise 2025 is probably out of reach. 2020 you can already forget.

  6. Anne says:

    I feel it is true that many older voters will not vote for Corbyn, and I note what some of the commentators have said on this site. This does present the Labour Party with very difficult choices, decisions to make, and this has got to be seriously addressed if we are to progress.
    Unlike some comments made I liked many aspects in the last Labour manifesto. For example I am for nationalisation of the railways, and I am not a commuter, but my heart goes out to those commuters on the southern line – this dispute is still not resolved. However, I feel that no tuition fees for university students is unsustainable- a realistic cost should be found.
    Funding the nhs and social care is a priority.
    I still believe Brexit is a mistake and the Tories are making a real dogs dinner of the negotiations. My faith is still with Kier Starmer.

  7. Barry Gilheany says:

    Chris Cookes

    Labour failed to win Barnet Council thanks to the hard left antisemitism that has infected the Labour Party since Corbyn became leader. this is no bogus story; no invention of the “Zionist” MSM or “Blairites” but a phenomenon which has been exhaustively analysed by dave Richm David Hirsch and others. Are you saying that Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, John Mann and others are lying about the hate mail and racist abuse they have received from supposed supporters of Corbyn. By the way, you provide no evidence that these MPs are hostile to Palestinian rights; perhaps their only offence in your eyes is that they support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state. You do a poor job of hiding your far left antisemitism with your talk of Zionist lobbies and cabals.

  8. millsy says:

    OK, fair enough, get rid of Corbyn. He probably has run his course. But does the UK Labour party really want to embrace privatisation and austerity. Perhaps some of the above posters should go and vote Tory, seeing as they all agree with 99% of May’s lot.

    Jane – If the Labour Party doesn’t stand for public ownership (at least of things like rail, water and power), then it might as well just close itself down.

  9. Graham says:

    Chris Cookes’ comments remind me so much of what I read on social media such as “Another Angry Voice”. It is actually characteristic of how German politics deteriorated after the defeat of WW1. Rather than questioning their own shortcomings, they seek to find scapegoats, traitors and betrayers of, in this case, the Party and its leader. However, unlike in Germany where this approach actually succeeded, in so far as it allowed Hitler to come to power, I suspect that in Corbyn’s case things will end with a whimper rather than a bang, as a Tory second rater like May triumphs in seats like Redditch and Swindon, while Labour piles up votes in the big metropolitan areas.

  10. Mr0 says:

    The post from James above illustrates the massive problem labour have with antisemitism.

    Denial, followed by accusations of conspiracy, followed by involving Israel again.

    That you cannot see the problem with this shows how antisemitic some in labour have become.

  11. Anon says:

    @James, blaming Corbyn on the EU issue is wrong; many, as I do, have been horrified by having to absorb EU treaties by default, with no say on what is being created nor on why ordinary tax payers should have to pay for the institutions set up in their name.

    70% of Labour’s heartlands voted to leave the EU, and I don’t believe that Corbyn would have changed that.

    Where he was wrong – and he has a lifelong political history of this – is having a strong opinion on something but pretending to support Remain when he so obviously didn’t believe in Labour’s set out policy.

  12. John P Reid says:

    James as a matter of interest did you vote libdem last year do have a good income in the private sector and what area do you live in and what’s your approx age

    Not judging you just
    as no fan of Corbyn , thd sort of labour party I want wouldn’t behind youd ever vote for , but if I could convince you that labour offered a viable alternative that would help people with education lift them out of poverty, increase equality and wouldn’t be based on thd market to produce wealth. As if thd Tories not neccasrily get more right wing , just get worse, such as increasing crime, and red tape of liberalism , then if maybe the only way to stop, many centrists thinking if they like the libdems, the only way to stop Corbynistas is vote Tory, but without being new labour, then attracting new voters, labour would have to offer alternatives with out taxing or cutting

  13. John P Reid says:

    Chris crooked, in May 1987
    Corbyn said it doesn’t matter if labour don’t win the forthcoming election

    As the conservatives will be brought down by methods outside parliamentary democracy of which that will only play a small part

    Corbyn in other words was talking about over throwing the democratically elected government

    The Tories used this and it helped them win the June 87 election

    Hypocrisy for Corbynites to complain that the criticism of appeasing anti Semitism, lost us votes, double the fact that if he’d dealt with it 2years ago there wouldn’t have been the bad news

  14. paul barker says:

    The big sucsess of Thursday was The Liberal Democrats with 75 Gains giving them their best Local performance in 15 Years. If any of you ever get sick of Labours endless Civil War, The Liberal Democrats are an alternative.

  15. Gregoo says:

    You’ve a lot to say about the shortcomings of the current leadership , how about putting forward a platform of policies and some personnel to front them …But your ilk never do just the usual perpetual sideline sniping that’s so tiresome… Your devoid of a single original thought or idea like so many on this site and it’s editorial board , it was all to evident during the 2015 leadership election with Cooper/burnham,/Kendall churning out the meaningless Blairbot soundbites, and 12 months later we had the embarrassment of the attempted coup to circumvent the membership & ended up with Owen Smith and his Corbyn manifesto + a new referendum….
    Is there anything else going on those vacuum packed heads of yours ?

  16. @Millsy’s comment is a useful illustration of Labour’s problem. Instead of asking why so many didn’t vote Tory, we have a Labour supporter suggesting people who aren’t Corbyn supporters to vote Tory.

    People who want to win elections try to persuade people to vote for their party, not to vote for the opposition.

    But, I wonder if the above posters are rightwing at all. Maybe they don’t support a Tory hard Brexit that would mean reduced government revenues, so even worst austerity.
    Maybe they don’t support massive Tory cuts to the benefits that New Labour introduced, like Corbyn supported at the last election (see https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/20/labour-manifesto-keep-planned-tory-benefit-cuts-resolution-foundation)

  17. John Wall says:

    Anybody with even a modest knowledge of history knows that governments are supposed to be bashed by the opposition at mid term local elections. Few, even the most ardent supporters, would claim that the current government is having an easy ride.

    Consequently it’s reasonable to assume that the Conservatives would have lost lots of councillors and councils – but they didn’t and the projected national share is 35% for each of the main parties and 16% for the LDs.

    Over in Corbynista land the response is predictable. It varies from Diane Abacus standard mathematical manipulation to try and make a disappointing result look good to conspiracy theories based on the completely biased “main stream media” – which is, of course, in long term decline and considerably less influential than it once was. Then there are the disloyal, treacherous, right wing, Blairites, Brownites, etc who have either manufactured or manipulated antisemitism to undermine Corbyn.

    The solutions start with mandatory reselection to purge the traitors..

    None can contemplate that Corbyn and his programme/worldview might be completely unappealing to a large percentage of the electorate.

  18. anosrep says:

    For goodness’s sake, this article is ridiculous. Labour won these local elections. Labour made net gains. The Tories picked up the collapsed UKIP vote and despite that still made net losses. Labour quite obviously *did* get the votes of former Tory voters. And yet Hatwal still contrives to conclude that the results show that Jeremy Corbyn is useless. This, remember, is a blogger who confidently predicted that Corbyn would come fourth in the leadership election and that Labour would lose more than 90 seats in the general election. I venture to suggest that it’s not Labour that needs a new leader but this blog that needs a new editor.

  19. Theo says:

    I think @millsy is right. I met an FT writer a few years ago who was intent on voting Conservative, but would “love to go back to loving Labour”. This was in the days of Miliband. Are such people just keen to avoid the social shame of voting Tory, and feel better about themselves?

    Whilst we should listen to the concerns of all former Labour voters, I really don’t think the party is the right choice for someone who thinks the coalition was so wonderful. The policy agenda always needs reviewing but the overall radical direction is where the party should be – certainly in terms of the economy. But it is fairly obvious to all but the most deluded that Corbyn cannot win the next General Election. The current party is deeply unattractive to large numbers of voters, in terms of leadership and behaviour of the activist base. This needs to change.

  20. John Wall says:

    @anosrep In order to win a General Election it’s usually necessary to be the largest party in local government.

    Local government has a cycle depending upon the type of council, some have “all out” elections every four years whereas others have a third of the council up for (re)election over a three year period.

    Look back to the Labour government and the Conservatives gained 4000 councillors over the first eight years, that’s about 500 per year. In the 1990s Labour made massive gains in local government, my local council went from over 30 Conservatives down to, I think, 13 over a three year period.

    Currently the Conservatives have over 9100 councillors whereas Labour have less than 6500. Yes, Labour gained last week but in terms of reducing that 2600 councillor deficit they barely made a small dent.

    For Labour last Thursday was “bad” because they failed to gain hundreds and hundreds of councillors but for the Conservatives it was “good” because they didn’t lose hundreds and hundreds of councillors.

  21. John P Reid says:

    Anosrep , labour pikced up th collapse Ukip vote more than the Tories did and the remaining Ukip vote will go Tory now, la But has to get non voters, or those eh voted for independents,

    As for Corbyn,labour got the retest vote I know of people who voted Libdem in 2010, Ukip in 2015 and labour in 2017( which also proves labour got theex Ukip vote) and the Tories fought their worse campaign ever,

    We are heading for two party politic. Know people who voted labour,who will vote Tory at the general election

  22. Mike Homfray says:

    The results were reasonable for Labour, and totally predictable given the continuing influence of Brexit on voting.
    I expect the current stalemate to continue until some sort of decision is reached and attention is then upon what options are going to be pursued – and the in/out issue is no longer predominating.
    Its clear to me that some of the respondents just don’t want to vote for anything left of a centre party – that’s fine, but doesn’t make me want Labour to become a centre party. We already have one, and quite why some want to turn Labour into a second one mystifies me.

  23. Mike Homfray says:

    Note to John Wall. It would be almost impossible for Labour to have most local councillors now, since local government reforms. This is because the Tories have a very large number of councillors in the two-tier districts, where wards are very much smaller.
    Labour’s strength is in the metropolitans, London, and some of the unitaries, where there are far less in the way of councillors per head of population.
    Indeed, something needs to be done about the quite ridiculous number of councillors in relatively small shire disricts

  24. John P Reid says:

    Millay labour might as well close it self doen, do Councillors, or a voice legally or in parliament for unions, when in opposition don’t count or assemblies, labour is about winning general elections, but more than that it’s about atopping things Tories think are acceptable like the homeless on the streets,and nationalization is little to d
    O with that,

  25. John Wall says:

    @Mike Homfray – Wards in many councils have actually got larger. My local council now has 13 wards and 39 councillors, in the 1990s there were 15 wards and 45 councillors. That pattern is replicated elsewhere.

  26. millsy says:

    Reid – I don’t see Blair’s lot as being brilliant at reducing homelessness. All they seemed to want to do was not let council’s run council housing, and refused to let them build any more. Not to mention cutting the benefits of single mothers (seems to popular among you guys).

    George – New Labour cut benefits as much as the Tories did.

  27. Mike Homfray says:

    Only in the unitaries and metropolitan areas. Did you read my post?
    The areas which have a lot of councillors are the two tier shires and districts. Here there are more councillors and wards are much smaller than in mets and unitaries.
    And it’s those areas which are overwhelmingly Tory

  28. peter carabine says:

    Any real political party of the left/centre left in any other western democracy be it EU/AUS/NZ or Canada would by now have removed JC for his lost 2017 general election and consistently poor ratings. Everyday we hear voters say I would vote Labour but not Jemery Corbyn for our PM or Labour is far too left or I have not voted Labour since Tony Blair was leader. This is not going to change because of the entrenched beliefs of the Corbyn Cult. We are in the 8th year of Conservative rule and last time Labour moved this far left Tories enjoyed another 10 years of government. That takes us until 2028 which is how long the Labour Party will be powerless under this extreme lot.

  29. John P Reid says:

    Millsy well I was homeless under Majors time and not under blairs, and I do work for the homeless now as I’ve seen it return , but the only way to stop it is a labour government and half the Corbynistas don’t care about winning its better to lose in a Marxist manifesto than win on a centre left one

  30. Vern says:

    It’s a brave satement John P Reid that the only way to stop homelessness would be with a Labour government. They didn’t manage it in the 13 years between 97 and 2010 and need to take some responsibility for today’s homelessness along with the Conservatives.
    Im not saying Labour can’t do it, but I would like to know how they would do it if you can tell us.

  31. John Wall says:

    @Mike Homfray – No. The boundary commission seems to have a “mission” to reduce the size of councils meaning that electoral areas are getting larger. I’ve seen it happen in recent years. And see https://fabians.org.uk/expectation-management/

  32. Thomas says:

    “”The top line of Jeremy Corbyn’s eve of poll op-ed in the Mirror was, “Tory austerity has almost certainly increased the death rate.”

    Calling Tory voters, the people Labour needs to win an election, accomplices to murder is quite a way to open a conversation about switching.””

    So the solution is to lie to the Tory voters and tell them they’re NOT accomplices to murder?

    I should think Tory voters could handle a bit of honesty.

  33. John P Reid says:

    Vern, by homelessness I mean people on the streets, aomore jobw, even if the state creates jobs, that are private/public, and nk who zero hour contracts, obviously controlling immigration, and a strong economy, and yes ablair was the first labour PM to inherita strong economy, th fact hat sixteen year old homeless, couldntgo into orphanages, but social housing every hung from sure start, creating jobs with apprentaships, even reversing the Tory legislation on squatters rights in 2013, by homeless I meant not on the streets, not those in YMCAs etc

  34. John Wall says:

    @Thomas – Considering Corbyn has a long history as a useful idiot, terrorist sympathiser, endorser (i.e., being paid by) of foul regimes and has appointed apologists for Stalin and Putin…….

  35. buttley says:

    Here is Blair doing what he does best (lying) at party conference in 95,

    note Margaret Beckett’s enthusiasm.


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