“At the 2017 election, Labour increased its vote by 10% and won millions of new voters over. The lessons of that election are simple: Labour had bold policies, a united party, and enthused activists.”
By Daniel McAvoy
Any assessment of the local elections has to start with a big well done to the Labour activists who helped deliver Labour councils in Worthing, Westminster, Wandsworth and even in places that don’t start with a “W” like Southampton, Barnet and Cumberland.
It’s great news for people in those areas who will now have local representatives who’ll do their best to defend them against the repeated attacks on working people coming from this horrific Tory government.
But looking at the results so far in England the national picture is not so rosy. As of 5pm on Friday, Labour has won just 53 additional council seats in England and now runs an additional 6 councils.
But while that is slightly more seats than when these elections were last fought in 2018 under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s actual share of the vote is down.
And the picture is uneven across the country, with Labour slightly up in London but three percentage points down in the North. Very few of Labour’s council seat gains in England are outside of London.
Elections were not held across the whole country but the BBC calculates that, based on these results, if the whole country had been voting – Labour would have won 35% of the vote, Conservative 30%, Lib Dems 19% and others 16%
It is positive that that puts Labour in first place, but it would not be enough to form a Labour government at the next general election.
No doubt those close to the Labour leader would point out that you need to compare this 35% projected national share of the vote with the 31% that Labour got in the disastrous 2019 election.
But while it is a step forward from that terrible result – in a general election dominated by Brexit that ripped apart much of Labour’s alliance – it is nowhere near enough.
It is especially disappointing given the elections couldn’t have taken place against a more favourable backdrop. The toxic combination of a lawbreaking PM who has been caught lying, the sleaze and corruption including billions wasted in dodgy Covid contracts, and an economic crisis that is hitting millions of people hard should have all helped Labour do better than it has.
It remains the case that Labour’s best electoral performance in many years is still the 40% won under Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 general election. At that election, Labour increased its vote by 10% and won millions of new voters over.
The lessons of that election are simple: Labour had bold policies, a united party, and enthused activists.
The 2017 policies from public ownership of energy, to free university and tax hikes on the wealthy not workers are all more relevant than ever as people are hit by this historic cost-of-living crisis.
Labour’s current offer hasn’t gone much beyond a Windfall Tax to lower energy bills. That is a great policy but it is not enough to deal with the scale of the crisis people face. We will need much more in the coming weeks to show that Labour is really on the side of the many, not the few.
We also need to enthuse our own members to get out campaigning. Instead, there have been many reports of a reduced Labour doorstep activity this time. This is no doubt linked to the constant attacks on the left and many members coming from the leadership.
Even in election week we have seen leading Labour figures finding time to attack and threaten left-wing MPs with explusion. The aim here seems to be to appeal to the Murdoch press, but there is no appeasing the right-wing media who will just demand more and more.
These attacks and the ditching of key left policies have clearly impacted on sections of the Labour vote – with the Lib Dems and Greens both capitalising on the anti-Tory mood in the country.
A General Election is now only two years away (and it could be even closer). Labour urgently needs to set out an appeal that can win over more voters from across the political spectrum – Tories, Lib Dems, Greens and others.
Those lessons from the 2017 election – and offering a bold, clear alternative on the cost of living crisis – are where Keir Starmer’s team now need to look if it is to make the leap from support in the mid-30% to the levels that could deliver the Labour government our communities so desperately need.