Local elections – Corbyn’s Labour continues its advance

By Robin Jackson

Contrary to widespread media propaganda, claiming a set back for Labour at the English local elections on 3 May, Labour in fact secured a modest but significant electoral advance. Despite UKIP’s previous vote collapsing and going mainly to the Tories, the Tories still suffered losses and there was no substantial Lib Dem recovery.

This and last year’s local election vote shares, as estimated by BBC’s Projected National Share (PNS), can be seen in the graph below.

Labour advanced to a 35 per cent vote share (up 8 per cent on 2017 local election), the Tories also on 35 per cent (down 3 per cent) and the Lib Dems on 16 per cent (down 2 per cent).

Labour’s performance at 35 per cent is the party’s best local election PNS since 2012. It achieved this despite continual campaigning against Labour from almost every media outlet. Labour’s support is strongest in the younger part of the population. According to Professor Sir John Curtice Labour’s vote was up on average by as much as 11 points in wards where more than 35 per cent of voters are aged between 18 and 34, and up by just 4 per cent where the proportion of younger voters is less than 20 per cent.

According to John Curtice, the Greens won 7.5 per cent of the vote in the wards they contested (down by 2 points on 2014) and UKIP won just over 6 per cent of the vote on average in the wards they fought (no less than a 20 point drop on 2014).

Based on these 3 May results, the BBC have projected that Labour would have become the largest party in the House of Commons, as set out in the graph below.

The BBC projected that Labour would have won 283 MPs (adding 21 seats to its 2017 result), whilst the Tories would have 280 MPs (down 38 on 2017). The Lib Dems would be on 22 MPs (up 10 on 2017). Under these circumstances the Lib Dems would not have enough seats to take either the Tories or Labour into a coalition government, but an option John Curtice suggested on the BBC could be that Labour and the SNP might assemble a House of Commons majority – a serious issue that Labour needs to consider.

According to the BBC, across all the council seats elected on 3 May, last fought in 2014, Labour increased its number of councillors by 77 (to 2,350), the Tories were reduced by 33 (to 1,332) and the Lib Dems increased by 75 (to 536).

Labour’s continuing progress is clear from the overall facts of this election. Evidently the so called ‘peak-Corbyn’ was not reached at the 2017 General Election. Labour being on course to be the largest party in the House of Commons is a totally unpalatable prospect for the right wing, including within the Labour Party. Hence why so much ‘analysis’ and commentary has tried to depict the 3 May local election results as a set back for Labour.

Some examples of this propaganda include the FT piece titled ‘Labour’s disappointing England poll results put brakes on “momentum”‘, the Times article headlined ‘MPs call for inquest as Corbyn fails election test’ and the Guardian’s line that ‘Labour failed to dent the Tories’.

In London Labour increased its number of councillors by 54 (to now hold 1,114 seats) and made a net gain of one council (so now controls 21 of the 31 that were up for election). Despite this the Evening Standard Comment is titled ‘There is a Corbyn effect: it’s holding Labour back’.

Prior to the election the media built up unrealistic expectations in London that Labour would take control of a number of key Tory bastions. It was claimed Labour could win control of Westminster Council and Kensington and Chelsea Council (both Tory since their formation in 1964), and also of Wandsworth Council (Tory since 1978).

In the run up to these local elections the relentless attacks on Labour and its leadership were intensified. The media, aided by the Labour right, attacked Corbyn on the Salisbury poisoning, the bombing of Syria and on the issue of anti-Semitism.

On the latter issue it is claimed there is a greater prevalence of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and amongst Corbyn’s supporters than elsewhere in society. According to Jewish Voice for Labour (a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party) there is no real evidence for these claims. Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite, has written that ‘the idea that Corbyn has ever shown hostility towards the Jewish community, or allowed anti-Semitic actions, is a disgusting libel’.

Corbyn has always been very clear. In relation to all types of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, he fights against all views that any group of people, whether defined by cultural, religion or ethnic origin, is inferior to any other. He has always opposed and condemned such views throughout his entire political life and continues to do so.

The possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour government remains totally unacceptable to capital, because of his opposition to its policies on austerity, war, racism and other social issues. So efforts to remove him from Labour’s leadership will be stepped up.

Corbyn can clearly win any democratic leadership contest within Labour, so another coup attempt along similar lines to the 2016 leadership election would not succeed at present. Other ways of removing Corbyn are no doubt being explored.

As part of this the right wing are fighting to re-establish control over Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Earlier this year the body was finely balanced in favour of the left in the CLPs and unions. But in March there was a rightwards shift as a left wing CLP representative resigned from the NEC.

There is also a significant campaign to shift the political orientation of Unite the union. Those standing behind the continuing legal challenges against Len McCluskey’s 2017 re-election as General Secretary hope to break the union’s current alliance with Corbyn. The Certification Officer, a retired high court judge, has rejected one of the right wing’s claims against McCluskey and will be making judgements on other claims in June.

All nine CLP places on the 39 member NEC are due to be elected this summer and nominations are currently being sought from CLPs. It is important the entire slate of candidates backed by the left is elected.

The right wing is determined to ensure the left can never lead Labour again after Corbyn. So if and when he stands down as Leader it is currently unlikely that someone with similarly progressive politics will get on the ballot paper of a Leadership election. Labour’s current rule book, as revised last year, gives a veto to MPs and MEPs over who can stand in a leadership election. The threshold is 10 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs, a higher level than those who actually voted for Corbyn in 2015. This restriction needs to be removed so that a democratic contest can be held when there is a vacancy for Leader of the Labour Party.

With Labour continuing its electoral advance the offensive against the party leadership will intensify and spread across a range of ideological and organisational issues. The left needs to step up its defence of Corbyn against all these attacks.