“When it comes to assessing Labour’s electoral fortunes, Corbyn is treated with all the due process of a 17th-century woman accused of witchcraft and dunked in a river. If she drowns she’s innocent; if she floats she’s guilty and condemned as a witch. Either way the verdict is never in her favour,” wrote Gary Younge.
It was widely predicted before the election that Labour would lose 150 plus seats in the local elections in the England, according to the polls at the time; some even went as far as 300 seats. In the end, the Labour not only lose far fewer seats – one quarter less than the Conservatives – but also hold on to the same number of councils. Labour did not just hold to key councils, such as Southampton, Harlow, Crawley, Worcester, Redditch, Derby, Hastings, Cannock Chase, Carlisle and Nuneaton where the local MPs are conservatives, but actually increased its share of the vote in the majority of them. It is true that Labour failed to gain seats in contrast to what happened in the 2012 local election under Ed Miliband, but it is more to do with Ukip. Ukip was a much less significant force in 2012; this time their performance was strong while the Conservatives were lacklustre. People did protested against the Conservative government’s incompetent rule and its austerity but not all the votes went to Labour.
The projected national share of votes was Labour 31% compared with Conservatives 30%. That was not a bad results, considering the doom and gloom prediction about Corbyn’s leadership and the vote share in 2015 general election: Labour 30.5% vs Conservatives 36.8%. Tony Blair’s Labour won 46% of seats in the 1995 local elections (5647 out of the total 12153); for England only, it is 45%. David Cameron’s Conservatives won 41% of the total contested seats in the 2006 local elections. Compared to their first local elections, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour won 48% of the seats available (1326/2743). Indeed, projected national share of votes under Corbyn was much worse compared to these 2 cases, but under the first-past-the-post electoral system, arguably it is the share of the seats that is more useful to look at. Labour under Miliband won 39% of the votes but 44% of the seats in the 2012 local elections, and then went on to lose the 2015 general election by a wide margin. It is bad to peak too soon, and it is even worse under this electoral system to concentrate too many votes in fewer places.
As we can see, higher projected national share of vote at local elections do not always translate to election victories in the general election later. Under Miliband, Labour’s share and lead over Conservatives gradually eroded until the total wipe-out in the 2015 general election. Interestingly, the share of vote for Labour and Conservatives in 2014 local elections is the same as this time. However, in 2014 Labour was in a ongoing downward spiral, it is too early to say whether Corbyn’s Labour has already peaked this time or was actually on the up towards 2020.
Many commentators are now arguing, just like when they were saying Labour was going to get wipe-out by hundreds of seats, the local elections this time favoured Labour because of the large number of Labour strongholds involved. Well, it favoured Labour so a wipe-out would be a disaster but now there is no wipe-out, the same argument says the results are not indicative anyway – this is the witch-hunting logic in motion. Many Conservative strongholds did not hold local elections this time so it is important to look at the ones that did. In many of these councils, Conservatives’ share of vote decreased noticeably. How about councils with marginal MP seats? Labour not only hold on to all of them but increased their share of vote.
Finally, how about the pitiful projected national share of vote this time for Labour? ‘To win general elections, you need large lead over the government to have any chance,’ we are told. Look at the table above, it is quite clear it is not as straightforward as that – the Tories lost 2 general elections in a row while holding a comfortable high lead over Labour in local elections. A commanding projected national share of vote at local election is neither sufficient nor necessary on its own to point to a victory at the subsequent general elections. Remember Corbyn’s pitiful share of vote is the same as Miliband’s in 2014 and also remember that from 2014 onwards, there was a widespread anticipation that the next government would be Labour, not because they would achieve a majority but because the Conservatives wouldn’t get one. I could not remember anyone saying or reminding us that Labour 31% vs Conservatives 30% was a ‘disaster.’ The Conservative’s small majority in the 2015 general election was a ‘surprise’ exactly because almost everyone was saying 31%-30% was enough and with luck, Labour might have achieved a small majority. The history might repeat itself in 2020 with another Conservative majority government or it might not – and I will argue later it might not – the takeaway point is Corbyn’s Labour won against the Tories and this is a foundation they can build on.
Human’s tendency is to blame the people we face rather than the people who are in charge behind the scene. Osborne’s austerity is cleverly structured in the way that people will blame local councils first before, if ever, they blame the central government. The fact that Labour held on to their councils was an achievement in itself. Labour councils are more likely to be in poorer areas and overwhelmingly where the Osborne’s cuts fell on. If the people there could saw through this and didn’t protest en masse, it raised expectation that people would knew the real culprit once the coming enormous cuts eventually materialised and vote accordingly in 2020. As for Conservative-held councils, Labour didn’t gain any this time. However, the Conservative councils have been cushioned from austerity cuts by the massive additional emergency fund from the Treasury so it was small wonder people there didn’t feel the pain too much. Still, the Conservative councillors have been complaining about the cuts. There is also a limit to how much more extra fund to the Conservative councils – it is certainly unsustainable, even under Osbornomics. Sooner or later, people there will feel the pain and the spin machine has to go on full spin – how successful it will be might become clear in the next few local elections.
Elections are only easy to predict if business goes on as usual. Even if it is true many times previously, it still do not mean it will be true this time, especially the circumstances change and basic assumptions no longer apply. ‘No opposition has failed to pick up seats in the local elections in the last 30 years,’ they said. So what. Why not 40 or 50; why only looking at the previous 30 years. Regroup, hold your ground and wait for the opportunity is the strategy advised by Sun Tsu in the situation where you are facing the strong and overwhelming disadvantages. There are certainly many opportunities in the horizon – some may not materialise but one is all it takes to win. Economy is on a dangerously slippery slope, it will make the goals of Osbornomics unachievable and austerity’s impact far far worse. The housing bubble will burst – more likely than not before 2020 – one of the best indicators always is the appearance of 100% mortgage, which has already been kindly supplied by Barclays Banks recently. Richard Murphy listed a few more troubles ahead:
- First, the myth of Crosby is over. The Goldsmith campaign was dire and will provoke a backlash in the party.
- Second, the referendum will cause severe disruption for the Conservatives, whatever the result.
- Third, Cameron is going come what may and people resent prime ministers who assume office without an election. They have a poor track record whilst leaving trails of dispute in their own party far too close to any election that follows for an easy recovery to take place.
- And then there is the minor issue of corruption in the last Conservative election campaign. Ten seats, at least, are being investigated. People would not like by elections because the marginally elected incumbent reached office as a result of fraud.
I will add one more, the Boris factor. It is make or break for Boris Johnson – he is heading towards irrelevance; if he does not gain the Tory leadership after the EU referendum, he never will. What the Boris-Gove nexus do after the referendum will determine how chaotic and viable the Conservative government is.
Scottish Tory’s ‘success’ has been vastly overplayed. It is the pro-independence Green Party that will make a difference. Scottish Tory is almost irrelevant despite having the second largest number of MSP seats. SNP need Green Party for a majority – it is more likely for Green Party to turn Scottish politics leftward than for Scottish Tory to make any rightward difference.
Scottish Labour was sharply declining long before Corbyn’s leadership. Pro-independence votes went to SNP while Scottish Tory attracted most of the Union votes. Labour is stuck in the middle, appealing to no one. Unless Labour address properly the issue of Scottish independence and take back the initiative, they are facing terminal demise. It is more a problem for Scottish Labour than for Corbyn. Whoever is the Labour leader will face the same problem and there is a limit to their influence on this issue. It is really up to Scottish Labour to find back their own soul, lost during the last independence referendum.
It looks like the Conservatives are unlikely to make any meaningful inroads here, even in 2020. If anything, any potential loss from Labour will more likely to go to Plaid Cymru than the Tories. However, Ukip is on the rise and it is worth seeing whether that will stop after EU referendum.
London has turned into a Labour stronghold, and in the election this time, Labour increased its share of the vote across London to win 9 out of 14 seats in City Hall. The pre-election row and the mass media frenzy about anti-Semitism (which mysteriously disappears immediately after the election) has affected some local elections. In London, however, the effects are minimal – in Barnet & Camden, which has a large Jewish population, Labour lost 0.4% of its vote share.
Boris’ legacy is unravelling and the housing bubble is ripe for bursting. London is where the government and the City of London are – when the going inevitably gets tough before 2020, whom will the Londoners blame?