On March 4, I wrote a blog setting out what I thought would constitute a “good result” for Labour in the 2016 local elections in England. You can see it here.
I concluded that a good result, one that would suggest we are heading back to government, would be measured on three criteria; gains of 500 seats or more, a 10% lead over the Tories, and a high turnout. The high turnout would prove that Corbyn’s leadership was appealing to non-voters, as previously claimed. An acceptable result would be 200–250 gains, and a 5% lead.
The point was to be open and honest about what success looks like. Clearly, even on my “acceptable” yardstick, we have failed.
Since the polls closed, lots of arguments have rolled out justifying the results, and I’d like to quickly address a couple of them.
John McDonnell, and many others, have started claiming that the benchmark for success is to close the gap between ourselves and the Conservatives in terms of vote share. Now, John knows he is being disingenuous; the gap was always going to close.
But actually, this is a measure we can compare against historic experience; going back to 1988, there has always been movement towards the main opposition after one year of a parliament, and it’s typically quite large.
So if that’s the measure of success, we should be looking to turn the 6.3% deficit we had last year into something like a 7–8% lead. John Curtice has just indicated that Labour’s lead is 1%, which matches the movement from Blair’s landslide in 1997 to Hague’s Conservatives in 1998.
Next. There are a lot of claims about 2012 being a “high water mark”. Well, it was Ed Miliband’s high water mark, but not a Labour one:
Also, some people questioned my 10% metric. Actually, Matt Singh has done this more scientifically than me; 10% is a good indication that the opposition is on course to become the next government:
A 1% lead in the 2016 election result means that, by this analysis, we’re on course to be worse than Ed Miliband’s Labour in 2015, and worse than William Hague’s Conservatives in 2001.
Finally, comparing the results against Rallings & Thrasher’s prediction of 150 losses is risible. They were overly pessimistic about Labour’s chances. But outperforming their estimate is not an achievement.
In summary, the results in the English council elections yesterday were bad. They are not a sign of future success; far from it, they show we are going backwards.
At a time when our support in Scotland is collapsing, we need to be extremely strong in England to have any chance at a General Election. Ipsos-Mori have today said that, given Labour’s performance north of the border, we would need to win the 2020 election by 13% to form a government.
We are in big trouble.
There are some flat-earthers who believe that these election results are good, that Jeremy Corbyn has “embarrassed his critics” by losing seats. More sensible types, however, are accepting that the results are bad, only to then shift the blame onto “Blairites” or the media.
Ah, the Blairites. It’s always their fault. But is there actually any empirical evidence at all to show that these so-called Blairites have damaged Labour’s chances in any way? Can we prove this? If there isn’t any evidence, then this is just an unsubstantiated gut feeling.
We could just as easily suggest that, in fact, Blairite interventions may have helped. Who damaged Labour more? Ken Livingstone for defending antisemitism and continually bringing up Hitler, or John Mann taking a stand against racism? Which is worse: Wes Streeting demanding tough action against antisemitism, or Diane Abbott denying that there is a problem? Are the Blairite actions damaging the party here, or helping to protect its reputation? How can we know?
And of course, the media is to blame, as it always is. But even if it is the fault of the “biased MSM”, what are you going to do about it? Is the media going to change any time soon? If they are to blame now, what’s going to happen in 2020? Do we think that, in the run-up to a General Election, the media will attack Jeremy Corbyn more or less than they have over the past few months?
You may think it’s unfair, but tough; every Labour leader has had to deal with a predominantly unfriendly media. It’s just something that we’re going to have to learn to work with.
Perhaps, Jeremy Corbyn supporters could just admit these results are bad, and then own them, rather than trying to blame everyone else? If you deny the problem, or blame others for it, how are you ever going to improve things? Wouldn’t time be better spent trying to understand why we’ve lost seats, and how we can win, rather than shouting at “Blairites”?
I desperately want Labour councils and a Labour government. The party has achieved great things, and I believe it is still the best vehicle for delivering greater equality and social progress.
But we have got to start being honest with ourselves.
Everything points to a Labour defeat at the next General Election. And a big defeat, at that. These local election results were poor.
You can have faith that we can win in 2020, but that’s all it is. Faith. There is nothing to back it up, and many things pointing in the other direction.
And yet today, Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell gloat on television, and Clive Lewis challenges critics of Corbyn to “put up or shut up”. These people have helped lead Labour to its worst set of local election results in decades. A bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss, today of all days.
We are heading in the wrong direction as a party, and we have the power to change it, if we want to. But we first have to accept what we’re seeing, stop kidding ourselves, and acknowledge that we’re sleepwalking towards disaster.
It is increasingly apparent that you can either have Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, or a shot at winning power at the next General Election. I don’t think you can have both. We cannot afford to keep indulging weak leaders; if we do, it’ll be a Tory waving on the steps of Downing Street in May 2020.
As someone who, more than anything, wants Labour to succeed, my heart is breaking today.