4th May 2019
You would be hard pressed to believe, from press and media coverage, that local elections this week have been a meltdown for the Tory Party with Labour having largely held their position. The BBC in particular have sought to characterise the elections as a ‘plague on both your houses’, portraying the results as a further indication of splits in both major parties over Brexit.
It is hard to deny that there is a grain of truth in the fact that Brexit has had an impact upon local election results, given its dominance in UK politics at present. However, the reality of politically driven austerity, clearly the fault of the Tories, resulting in hugely damaging cuts in local jobs and services cannot be ruled out.
The actual figures for losses paint more mixed picture than the media would like to portray. Across the country the Tories lost 1,334 local councillors. Labour lost 82 councillors. Across the country the Tories lost control of 44 local councils. Labour lost control of 6 councils. The Liberal Democrats did increase the numbers of councils they control by 10 while adding 703 to their tally of local councillors, mainly at the expense of the Tories in the South and South West.
The Labour right wing, always keen to take any opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, have fuelled the media narrative by agreeing that the results are a major blow for Labour and suggesting they illustrate the need for a so-called People’s Vote to break the Brexit deadlock. Quite how such a conclusion can be extrapolated from the reality of the figures is hard to see but there are those in Labour, spearheaded by Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who refuse to let the facts get in the way of their version of the world.
The media have made little play of the fact that Labour candidate, Jamie Driscoll, won the North of Tyne Combined Authority Mayoral contest. An openly Momentum backed candidate, Driscoll beat establishment candidate, Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council for the Labour nomination. Attempts to subvert Driscoll’s campaign through so-called Independent, John McCabe, a smokescreen candidate for the Labour right wing, failed to dent Driscoll’s appeal. Local entrepreneur, Charlie Hoult, in a desperate tilt at populism from the Tories made it through to the count of second votes but was soundly defeated by a 76,862 to 60,089 votes margin.
While the realities of the powers of the so-called Metro Mayors is limited, and Driscoll will have the intransigence of the local Labour establishment to contend with, his election nevertheless represents a positive signal that a Left wing programme can attract votes.
The usual suspects, in the form of Professor Sir John Curtice, have been wheeled out to predict that, based upon this week’s result a General Election would result in the two main parties gaining only 28% of the vote each and would lead to another hung Parliament. However, a cold analysis of the figures does not take into account the dynamics of an election campaign and the real issues which parties will have to address on the doorstep.
There is no getting away from the fact that, even discounting the Brexit debacle, the Tories have a dismal record and with a clear programme based upon addressing the need of the many, not the few, Labour stands every chance of winning a General Election.
It is clear from the response to the local election results that Tory strategists know that they are on the ropes. Calls for May’s resignation have intensified while her greeting at the Welsh Conservative Conference this week was far from warm. The sacking of Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, days ahead of the local elections is see as a tactical blunder on May’s part and Williamson has clearly positioned himself in opposition on the backbenches, not being prepared to go quietly.
With Brexit discussions set to resume next week and European elections still scheduled for 23rd May, it is hard to see where else the Tories can turn but to hope that a new leader can help dig them out of the hole they find themselves in. Labour on the other hand must stand firm and not be distracted by the splitting tactics of Change UK or the antics of Deputy Leader, Tom Watson.
The prospect of a General Election may yet be within grasp and in a General Election scenario a united Labour Party will undoubtedly win.