JAMES SLACK: If this was a 'good night', then the Left's in a very dark place
Jeremy Corbyn’s own rather desperate analysis of the election results was that Labour ‘hung on'
This is just about true – but what will be the cost to the party’s long-term prospects as he staggers on for another year, knives protruding from both his front and back?
The party’s share of the local vote was down around 6 percentage points on average compared to 2012, the last time these seats in England were contested, under the ultimately doomed leadership of Ed Miliband.
Over the four decades since 1974, the average council election gain for an Opposition party in a year without a general election has been 434 seats. Yet Labour lost seats – more than 20 of them – in this week’s polls.
You have to go back to 1985 – when Labour was tearing itself apart over hard-Left group Militant – to find an Opposition losing seats in English council elections.
But the figures are, in fact, worse for Labour than this. Because when an Opposition party has a new leader – as they have with Mr Corbyn – the average gains are 515 seats.
The Conservatives even managed to gain 256 council seats in 1998, when Tony Blair was at the height of his popularity. They won a further 1,344 in 1999, with Labour losing 1,161.
Even Michael Foot’s first local elections as party leader in 1981 saw Labour gain 988 – and he was the least successful Labour leader of modern times.
In contrast, Mr Corbyn has gone backwards and suffered losses.
True, Labour managed to remain the largest party in Wales – but fell short of an overall majority as Ukip ate into its core vote, gaining seven seats. Meanwhile, in Scotland, there was utter devastation for the party slumped to its worst result since 1910. Labour’s vote share was down by 9 percentage points – with the loss of 13 seats.
Humiliatingly, the Tories pushed them into third place.
Chancellor George Osborne’s analysis yesterday was that Labour is finished in Scotland and, therefore, no longer capable of forming a majority Government in the UK.
Only by forming an alliance with the SNP does it have any chance of running Britain – and the public flatly rejected that idea at the 2015 general election.
The only reason that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell was able to claim, with a straight face, that Labour had enjoyed a ‘good night’ was because expectations had been so dramatically downplayed in recent weeks. It did not lose the 150-175 English council seats predicted by some analysts.
But if restricting the party’s losses to double-digits – when historic precedent suggests it should have made huge gains – is a good night’s work, the party is in a very, very dark place indeed.
Labour managed to remain the largest party in Wales – but fell short of an overall majority as Ukip ate into its core vote, gaining seven seats
Narrowly, it was ahead of the Tories in the national vote share. According to BBC projections for England, Labour are on 31 per cent with the Conservatives on 30 per cent. In 2012 Labour was at 38 per cent, and the Tories at 31 per cent.
And the Labour leadership let it be known that the results were sufficient see off any threat of an immediate coup. Tory moderates said themselves that Mr Corbyn has another 12 months in the job.
But in truth there never really was the prospect of the rebels striking now, as they have two major problems to overcome.
The first is that, while Mr Corbyn has the backing of hundreds of thousands of party members, any coup attempt would be futile.
Team Corbyn are adamant that, legally, he would make it on to the ballot in any leadership contest and win again.
Second, where is the candidate around whom the moderates are uniting?
The two names in the frame are Angela Eagle and Dan Jarvis but there is no strategy for getting them elected – just a seething contempt for the man who currently holds the job, which many of them so publicly laid bare yesterday on the TV and radio.
While Mr Corbyn has the backing of hundreds of thousands of party members, any coup attempt would be futile.
What state the party and its ‘brand’ – so painstakingly repaired by Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair – will be in this time next year is anyone’s guess.
Still to come, remember, is the madness of the party tearing itself apart over a vote on replacing Trident – not to mention who knows how many more anti-semitism scandals.
Certainly, the night was not without some pain for David Cameron, whose share of the vote fell in the south east. Councils he might have expected to turn blue did not materialise.
But, given that he is six years into his premiership, in the grip of a bruising internal battle over Europe, and coming off the back of a botched Budget, the Prime Minister should have been drubbed.
Instead, he could trumpet not only the incredible story north of the border, but also the news of seats gained in places such as Peterborough, Nuneaton and Bury – all of them key election battlegrounds.
Throughout his time as Tory leader, Mr Cameron has been a Lucky General. But never can he have felt luckier than he does today.
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