Senior Labour figures have attempted to suggest that last Thursday’s election results represent a positive for the party. They do not.
This was a disastrous night for Labour.
Labour is on course for a landslide defeat in 2020.
Labour, despite competition with a Conservative party that has been in government for six years, is tearing itself to shreds on Europe, and had to deal with the fall out of an appallingly ill-conceived budget, lost votes in England, in Wales, and even more strongly in Scotland. It became the first opposition to lose seats in council elections since 1985, a presage to a landslide defeat in 1987, endured its worst result in Scotland in over a century, and had its working class base eaten into by UKIP. Jeremy Corbyn became the first opposition leader to lose council seats in the first year of leadership in over fifty years. Mr Corbyn and Labour came up against tests in every party of the country, and lost every single one.
In England, despite holding councils in the kind of marginal seats in the Midlands and the South that decide elections, like Nuneaton, Crawley or Southampton, Labour’s share of the vote fell from 38% to 31%. This was a seven point fall from the performance of Ed Miliband. It failed to gain a single council, and even lost seats in Bury, Calderdale and Watford, the sites of even more key marginals.
Labour may have held onto more seats than was predicted, but a Sky News projection showed Labour fifty seats behind the Tories if the results were to be repeated in 2020. Labour needs a 13.5% swing in England for a majority of ten seats in 2020. It needs to win in places like Kensington and Basingstoke, places never before held by the party. Instead of gaining seats, it shed nearly a fifth of its votes from when the seats were last fought in 2012.
A better story may be seen in Wales, where the party may have held onto the assembly – impressively, considering Labour has been in power for seventeen years and will continue to be until at least 2021 – but it lost votes in significant numbers to UKIP and Plaid Cymru. Take Caerphilly, a stalwart Labour seat which for Westminster elections has delivered a Labour MP for a hundred years. Plaid were a thousand votes from taking the seat after UKIP gained over 20% of the vote. Welsh Labour will have to govern as a minority again.
Scotland provides an even glummer picture. Three constituencies out of seventy-three voted a Labour MSP into Holyrood. Thirteen years ago, Labour held fifty constituency seats. Scottish Labour is now in third place in Scotland, behind the Scottish Tories. Thirteen years ago, it was the Conservatives on three seats. How times change. Scottish Labour ran on an explicitly left-wing platform. It was roundly, decisively beaten.
As a whole, Britain’s electorate was shown full-throated Corbynism, and decisively rejected it.
The difficulty is that the party’s electoral problems do not stop with Mr Corbyn. Labour’s electoral coalition is essentially mad up of three key groups: liberal, middle-class University graduates, ethnic minorities, and its traditional, white, working class base. It is difficult to see how the party keeps these voters happy, whilst addressing the concerns of those voters who have left it behind to vote SNP, Conservative or UKIP because of its tarnished reputation on three of the most important issues that voters use to decide who to form the next government on: welfare, immigration and the economy. It will not get anywhere near power without addressing these.
The party is still horribly tarnished by the Conservative accusation that Labour spent too much money in the years leading up to the financial crisis, and that those who chose to not work, or wished to immigrate into the UK, simply had it too soft under the last Labour government. Whatever the factual merits of these attacks, Ed Miliband did not seem interested in limiting immigration – tone matters much more than policy to most voters – was implemented in Gordon Brown’s handing of the economy, and the party did not seem serious on reforming welfare. Mr Corbyn seems even less interested. David Cameron’s Conservatives, despite tripling tuition fees, attempting to slash child tax credits and cutting taxes for the richest at the expense of others, will be seen as the natural party for those wishing to get on in their lives unless Labour tackles these issues head on.
Labour faces an incredible challenge to even get close to winning in 2020. The deep-seated issues with the party, which do not end with the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, will not be solved overnight. 2016’s election results showed just that.