Local elections: no denying a Labour failure

May 8, 2016 at 10:02 pm (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

Anti-Corbynites are trying to make out the results were a disaster; uncritical loyalists are fooling themselves that they were a success: a cool-heasded analysis is called for. This is from Rob Francis:

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:

Thanks to Matt Forde

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.

H/t Paul Canning


  1. Makhno said,

    Hmm, this raises more questions than it answers whilst throwing a load of stat salad into the mix.

    Is this really a cool headed analysis, or just someone on the right of the party defending his corner?

    If the party’s heading in the wrong direction, what’s the right direction?

    If the party needs a strong leader with centrist politics, why couldn’t the right of the party manage to field a single strong candidate in the leadership election?

    If 2012 was a tentative recovery following the disaster of 2010, why isn’t this following the disaster last year?

    The simple fact is that faith is all we have that a Labour party opposing austerity and espousing social justice and the rights of workers can win, and faith is all Rob Francis has that a right wing candidate, soft-peddling austerity and the privatisation of the NHS, whilst failing to oppose the Tories where it matters would have fared any better.

    If he believes that an internal party coup to unseat Corbyn, negating the wishes of the majority of members, will have any effect other than tearing the party apart completely and making it truly unelectable, then that’s not faith, it’s fantasy.

    I voted for Corbyn as the least worst option, considering the relentlessly negative and pathetic campaigns of the other leadership candidates. I have many disagreements with Corbyn on policy, but the same could be said of any of the other candidates. The majority of party members appear to have agreed with me.

    If the PLP wishes to make a change at the top, it will have to be a managed one, respecting the wishes of party members and not treating them as the enemy and just forcing a placeman on them. They need to show humility and work with the leadership, rather than actively campaign against them. Perhaps then they can effect a transition before the next election. The constant barracking and opposition within party ranks has almost certainly entrenched Corbyn’s position with the party rank and file, whilst creating a siege mentality at the top.

    More to the point, if a “strong” leader is needed, they need to identify one. None has been forthcoming so far.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I should emphasise that I don’t agree with everything Rob Francis argues in his piece, and especially not with his conclusion: “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.”

      However, it’s a well argued piece, using (as far as I can judge) sound stats, and we on the broadly pro-Corbyn left need to address what Francis is saying.

      • Makhno said,

        Well, the Labour party need to address what he’s saying, and that goes for right and left. On the right there needs to be an acknowledgment that constant agitation against the elected leader has failed, both for them and the party. The left also needs to be less didactic and more cooperative.

        To say, however, that the blame lies solely with the leadership, whilst hand-waving away the actions of the right and the media, is pretty dishonest. Both sides of the party need to start acting like a party and less like children.

        That said, to describe the election as a complete failure is neither fair not accurate. It certainly wasn’t a great success, despite some glimmer of light. However, at the time of the leadership election, before Corbyn was even elected, Labour were 15 points behind in the polls and were on a knife edge of complete irrelevance. This has been rectified to a certain extent.

        The idea that more than this (or even equaling this) could have been achieved by battling for the mythical “centre ground” with the Tories is the sort of faith-based thinking that Francis is complaining about.

        In addition, the seemingly heartfelt cry for a mythical “strong leader” is even more mythical, and smacks of what the Portuguese call “Sebastianismo”, or awaiting the return of Arthur from within the bowels of the Earth. There was simply no strong leader on offer at the leadership hustings, nor is there one today from the right, left or centre of the party.

        In the absence of this the only thing the party can achieve is unity, and that means unity behind the current leader.

        I have vague hopes for Starmer as a future unity candidate (that may be just because of his first name) but he’s still a parliamentary baby.

      • Makhno said,

        Oh, and Corbyn totally needs to sack Seumas Milne, as he is an arseknuckle.

      • Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

        Seriously Jim? Under what circumstances would Jez become PM? You are not allowed to use the powers you learned at Hogwarts.

    • Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

      *He is not on the fucking right you twat.*

      This is like people leaving Scientology at this point and I don;t think that is an exaggeration.

      • Makhno said,

        He’s self-evidently on the right of the party, which is clear from this and his previous blog posts. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial or twattish to state this rather obvious observation.

        It’s as much magical thinking to suggest that Corbyn can win in 2020 than to suggest any other Labour MP could win in 2020.

        Are you seriously saying that Cooper, Burnham or Kendall could have clawed the party’s way back from 15% behind in the polls (as the party was during the leadership election) to a 10% lead less than a year later, as demanded by Francis’s blog? Really?

  2. Political Tourist said,

    Please don’t mention Scotland.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      How are they doing with their anti-austerity parties in office? What, you mean they haven’t ended the austerity either? Fancy that!

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Ok done. Nat si Bhoy.

    • Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

      You are exactly describing my Twitter experience all weekend.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    Is the reason that people voted for centre or right-wing parties was because the labour party are not left-wing enough?

  4. Steven Johnston said,

    Left or right-wing platform it does not matter. All a government can do is manage capitalism. If you want more recent example, look at Greece. Each government claimed to end austerity, yet ended up enforcing it, they were then replaced a few months later until finally they got it. The result was austerity is here to stay in Greece and around the globe, you cannot vote your way out of it.
    Corbyn seems to be selling something similar to Harold Wilson in ’64, now, if you look at the unemplyment figures, they actually increased even with the increased government spending in that period from ’64 – ’70.

    • Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

      A Syriza government is now rounding up NGOs that support migrants. Feeling a certain speech by N Kinnock here …

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Steven, the various old industrial revolution factories started closing late fifties. The big smoke and fog started to clear from the sky. People were on the move from the slum housing into new slum housing. It was some time! Letter through the door from the factor, you are oot next month! Harold Wilson did his best. Good to see at last the Blacklist has been exposed but I wonder how many of the bastards managed to burn them.

  5. Paul Canning (@pauloCanning) said,

    Thanks for plugging this Jim. Have been doing same on Twitter. Conspiracism has taken over much of left.

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