Labour’s poor local election performance overshadowed by low expectations

Labour's poor local election performance overshadowed by low expectations

Labour’s Local Election Performance: A Tale of Lowered Expectations

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In the world of politics, setting expectations and framing results can make a significant difference. Theo Bertram, an advisor in Downing Street under New Labour, highlighted this in a recent blog post on the art of spinning local-election results. He pointed to the party’s strategy in 2007, where they successfully set a ludicrously high bar for the opposition Conservatives, framing their own losses as a better outcome than expected. This tactic worked wonders, as the media focused on the Tories’ failure to meet an arbitrary yardstick rather than Labour’s substantial losses.

Understanding this context is essential in analyzing Labour’s performance in the recent local and regional elections. The party has lost 24 seats in English councils, compared to the Conservatives’ five gains. With opposition parties traditionally performing well in local elections, where voters have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the government, these results are abysmal for Labour. It is not just a disappointing or mixed outcome – it is abysmal.

To put the magnitude of this loss into perspective, let’s look at previous local elections. In his first set of local elections, Ed Miliband, who eventually led Labour to a crushing defeat in the general election, oversaw 857 gains. Tony Blair, the last Labour leader to take the party into government, achieved an impressive 1,807 gains. While Labour did well in the 2012 elections, ruling out Blair’s level of gains, it still fell short of fully recouping its losses from previous rounds of elections.

Considering these historical trends and the relationship between local and general-election performance, Marcus Roberts, a former Labour strategist at YouGov, estimated that Labour needed to pick up 300 or more seats to be on track for a national win in 2020. Unfortunately, Labour has conspicuously failed to achieve this goal, losing ground in every nation of Great Britain.

The situation in Nuneaton, a key marginal constituency, is particularly damning for Labour. It was seen as a reflection of Miliband’s shortcomings and defeat in the general election. The swing from Labour to the Conservatives in Nuneaton during these local elections was even greater than in the general election. Additionally, Labour’s third-place position in Scotland is not only a testament to the Scottish Conservatives’ leader, Ruth Davidson, but also a result of Labour’s failed attempt to win back votes from the Scottish National Party by tacking left under Jeremy Corbyn. Moreover, there are concerning indications from local voting patterns that the party is losing the support of Jewish voters due to recent anti-Semitism scandals.

On the other hand, the recent local elections have been a triumph for the Conservatives. Despite being in the least favorable position in the political cycle and dealing with internal divisions over Europe, they secured improbable gains in England and made a comeback in an area where they were long written off. These results spell doom for Labour in general elections.

Yet, strangely enough, much of the news coverage of the results has been absent of these facts. The headlines focus on Labour “holding its ground,” “passing the test,” and describe the outcome as “messier than predicted” or “bad-but-not-disastrous.” This misleading narrative is a result of Labour’s leadership skillfully lowering expectations. Despite the reality of the situation, the party consistently promoted the idea of triple-digit losses, unreasonable expectations for gains, and the potential loss of the London mayoral election (which is likely to be a solid win for Labour). This strategy has successfully painted results that should strike fear into the hearts of Labour supporters as par-for-the-course.

It is important to acknowledge the significance of these results. Labour is on track to perform worse in the 2020 election than it did last year. Any commentary or analysis perpetuating the delusion that this is not the case is doing the Conservative Party a great favor.

In an update since this post was published, Sadiq Khan has secured enough votes to become London’s new mayor. While this may relieve some pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, it does not reflect positively on his electability. A detailed write-up of the mayoral election result can be found here.

Labour must take a hard look at their local-election performance and reassess their strategy moving forward. The party cannot afford to rely on lowered expectations as a means of survival. They must address the concerns of voters and regain their confidence. Failure to do so will not only jeopardize their chances in future elections, but also undermine the democratic process as a whole.