Labour and the local elections – the real situation 

By Robin Wilson

Based on the local election vote only Labour could form a government at a general election

The local government elections results, analysed from the point of view of their political significance for a general election, confirm that the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party has further advanced relative to the Tories since 2017. On all projections if there had been a general election on 2 May only Labour, not the Tories, would have been able to form a government. Understandably, this fundamental political fact is not trumpeted across the capitalist media – whose goal is precisely to prevent such an outcome.

In the local elections, on all projections, the Tories and Labour achieved similar national vote shares. In effect there has therefore been a swing of one per cent from the Tories to Labour since the 2017 General Election, when the Tories’ vote share was two per cent ahead of Labour.

This analysis is shown by both of the two authoritative estimates calculated each year from the local election results. Rawlings and Thrasher’s National Equivalent Vote (NEV) and the BBC’s Projected National Share of the vote (PNS) calculate the estimated levels of national support the parties would have received had there been local elections everywhere on 2 May. They extrapolate from the results in a number of key wards – this year the NEV estimates are based on the votes cast in 130 local councils, with a combined electorate of more than 15 million.

As calculated by NEV the political parties’ estimated national vote shares are:

  • Tories 31% (- 6% on last year)
  • Labour 31% (- 5%)
  • Lib-Dems 17% (+3%)
  • others 21%

The estimated national vote shares calculated by PNS are:

  • Tories 28% (- 7%)
  • Labour 28% (- 7%)
  • Lib-Dems 19% (+3%)
  • others 25%

In other words, while the two calculations gives slightly different absolute shares of the vote for Labour and Tories both give them equal shares – and both show the Lib Dems advancing by 3%.

On the basis of these projections, in terms of the Parliamentary seats that would result, only Labour would be able to form a government. This is because no combination of parties willing to support the Tories would have a majority in Parliament, while Labour plus the SNP, which rejects any support for the Tories but would vote for Labour under certain circumstances, would either have a Parliamentary majority or would be extremely close it to. This is due to the fact that if there had had been a general election on 2 May, based on the shares of the vote, the number of Labour MPs would have increased further on the gains of 2017 and the Tories decreased.

PNS figures project Labour would be the largest party with 11 more MPs than the Tories (Tories 269, Labour 280). The NEV figures project the Tories would have just 11 more seats than Labour (Tories 279, Labour 268). But in both cases only Labour would have the potential to form a government as the Tories would only receive DUP backing, which would be insufficient to provide a Parliamentary majority – as the Lib-Dems are unwilling at present to support another Tory government and the SNP, Greens, and Plaid Cymru reject any support for the Tories.

Labour can also be expected to perform better than it did on 2 May at a general election because turnout is higher at the latter, which aids Labour, and Labour can set out a manifesto for government that addresses improving people’s living standards – an option not so available in local elections as local authorities’ expenditure is tightly controlled by central government. This combined effect was clearly demonstrated in 2017 when Labour’s UK vote share at the June General Election (40%) was more than 10% higher than the NEV and PNS estimates made at the local elections the month before (28% and 27% respectively).

Recent opinion polls also place Labour ahead of the Tories in general election voting intentions. At the date of publication of this article, the most recent 12 polls all report Labour ahead of the Tories.

In summary, based on the vote at the 2 May local elections, only Labour would be able to form a government in a general election and Labour has advanced further relation to the Tories since 2017. This is the reality the media is carefully trying to conceal. Naturally, however, what is required is a further advance to secure an overall majority for Labour at a general election – as only this would guarantee Labour being able to carry out the radical programme of a Corbyn led government which is what is needed.

The council election results

Turning to detailed analysis of the local government elections themselves, across the 248 councils where local polls took place on 2 May the most significant outcome was obviously the Tories’ huge loss of seats and councils. It was the worst Tory local election result for a quarter of century. Their more than 1,300 net losses were at a level not seen since they lost 2,000 seats in 1995. This loss accounted for 35% of the seats they had won in 2015, when these seats were last up for election. The Tories lost control of 49 councils.

Whilst Labour lost a net 82 seats, it is merely media nonsense to suggest that this is in any way comparable to the Tories’ set back – all attempts to spin the results in that way merely show the pro-Tory propaganda by the mainstream media, including the BBC.

The number of seats the parties won (net gains/losses on 2015) were as follows:

  • Tories 3,561 (-1,335)
  • UKIP 31 (-145)
  • Labour 2,023 (-82)
  • Green 265 (+194)
  • Independents 1,045 (+606)
  • Lib-Dems 1,351 (+704)
  • others 134 (+56)

The change in the numbers of council seats that the political parties won this year indicates a mild but definite switch from pro-Leave parties (Tories and UKIP) to pro-Remain parties (Lib-Dems and Greens). The council seats up for election this year were disproportionately in areas that voted Leave in 2016 – places where these local elections took place voted in 2016 Leave to Remain by 56% to 44%. This reflects the fact that this year’s local elections were concentrated in Tory heartlands – only taking place across English local councils and without the participation of London.

Brexit and Labour

The central political issue that has dominated the media over recent months has been Brexit and the government’s three failed attempts to cajole Parliament into backing its draft withdrawal agreement with the EU. Opinion polls indicate that voters currently now see this as the most important issue facing the country.

Whilst socialists regard the issue of Brexit as secondary to the overall question of defending living standards and electing a Jeremy Corbyn-led government, nevertheless the position Labour takes on this issue affects the population’s standard of living and has significant electoral ramifications.

In dealing with such a vital issue as securing a Jeremy Corbyn led government only a strictly objective overall approach by the left will be successful. An attempt to focus only on one part of the country, the North, is misleading because to secure a majority Labour has to win seats across the country. The biggest question that has to be addressed is therefore how Labour can win seats from the Tories which at this election in the country as a whole instead went to the Lib Dems and Greens?

In the North itself there is evidence that some Leave voters abandoned Labour. UKIP actually made a net gain of seats in the North East (+4) and North West (+6) – but nationally were crushed losing over 140 seats overall. However, in Sunderland, although claims were made Labour loses were due to not supporting Brexit, the evidence does not support it. Labour losses in Sunderland were primarily to pro-Remain not pro-Brexit parties. Pro-Remain parties vote rose 14.8% (Lib Dems +9.9% Greens +4.9%), while pro-Brexit rose 2.7% (UKIP +4.4%, Tories -1.7%) – therefore there were five times the percentage increase in the votes for Remain parties in Sunderland as for pro-Brexit ones.

But the overall national picture of pro-Remain parties picking up mild but definite support compared to pro-Brexit parties was clear – and Labour must base itself on facts not myths. There was a mild but clear shift towards pro-Remain parties and a significant fall in support for overtly pro-Brexit parties (Tories plus UKIP). The biggest question this year, which will be decisive for a General Election, is why did Labour did not gain seats where Tories and UKIP lost seats – unlike last year’s local elections. Labour lost a net 82 seats this year and the Lib-Dems and Greens gained a net 898 seats. Why were the gains to the Lib-Dems and Greens instead of Labour? This is the largest issue for Labour. Certainly a substantial number of these council seats were deep in the Shires where Labour will never win a parliamentary seat, but many were in towns and marginal parliamentary constituencies which Labour must win to gain a general election victory.

This moderate shift to pro-Remain parties seen at the 2 May local elections was also seen in April’s Newport West by-election when Labour’s vote fell 12.7% on 2017 and a combination of parties (Lib-Dems, Plaid, ‘Renew Party’ and Greens) collectively increased their vote by 11%

Also recent opinion polls have been picking up a modest shift in opinion towards Remain amongst Labour supporters. For example YouGov reports an increase in support for Remain amongst Labour voters from 67% in 2016 to 74% this year. All polls show the overwhelming majority of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters back Remain.

Within this context, the positions Labour has fought for in Parliament have correctly reflected Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’s priority of defending jobs and living standards. It has voted repeatedly against a No Deal Brexit, against Theresa May’s deal, for a Customs Union, for ‘Common Market 2.0’ and for a People’s Vote – that is for all positions blocking a No Deal Brexit. It has also repeatedly voted against ending Freedom of Movement to avoid the damage that would entail, while the Tories still put bogus immigration targets ahead of the population’s prosperity.

Labour’s correct position under Corbyn

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership Labour, more than any other party, has been pursuing a clear line of defence of the population’s living standards – which means either a soft Brexit or a referendum if that is the only way to stop a No Deal Brexit or bad deal. This is the best approach to defending the population’s living standards. It reflects the decisions taken by Labour’s party conference. Labour’s NEC has recently rightly endorsed the same approach for Labour’s European Parliament elections manifesto. The fact that Labour has advanced further in relation to the Tories compared to 2017 in the local elections, despite the all out media mobilisation against Labour, is proof of the correctness of Labour’s position.

The actual positions Labour takes on Brexit are of course constantly misrepresented by the anti-Labour press, which regularly exhorts Labour to pursue courses of action on Brexit that will harm the position of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The pro-Brexit wing (Mail, Express, Times, Telegraph) is currently arguing, contrary to the mild but clear pro-Remain shift in the local elections, that the results amount to an instruction to ‘get on with Brexit’. Meanwhile the pro-Remain right wing (Guardian, Independent) is attacking Labour for not agreeing to a ‘People’s Vote’ in all circumstances, fetishising a process that might or might not help halt a No Deal or hard Brexit, depending on the circumstances and the questions on any ballot paper.

This situation also determines the attitude that needs to be taken to the frenzied media attempts to urge Labour to sign up to a bad Brexit deal with May. Evidently Labour needs to avoid alienating both the pro-Remain majority of its supporters and the pro-Leave minority. Opinion polls have consistently reported that both 2016 Leave and Remain voters oppose Theresa May’s deal, so any media advice that Labour should back May’s deal, or proposed small amendments of it, is a proposal that Labour should harm its standing with its voters and weaken Corbyn’s base within Labour.

The reason the Tories have refused to meet even Labour’s minimum position for a Custom’s Union with the EU is because the Tories real goal is a trade agreement tying Britain to the US – which would be impossible if Britain was in a Custom’s Union with the EU. For that reason the real goal of the Tories is to get Labour to abandon any position which defends living standards and jobs. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour has been totally correct to refuse to do so – and has imposed significant defeats on the Tories in Parliament as a result.


The key reality the media is frantically trying to conceal is therefore that on the basis of this year’s local elections results only Labour could form a government if a general election had been held – winning further seats to add to the strong advance made in 2017. However, without an overall majority in parliament, Labour would not be able to pass many of its most progressive policies – therefore Labour has to seek to advance further beyond its gains made so far towards gaining an overall majority.

With European Parliamentary elections due on 23 May the anti-Labour media will once again mobilise to try to block the way to a Labour government – which would have been the result of a general election held on 2 May. Labour activists need to redouble their efforts to secure a Jeremy Corby led government and campaign to maximise Labour’s vote.