With the local election results in, they make for grim reading for labour. They lost several mayoral election and 382 council seats. Should anyone doubt the disaster Corbyn is leading the party into, well here’s the evidence. Indeed you could tell it was bad by the fact that even before the counting had even started labour was already making excuses and had essentially already conceded defeat.
Firstly, the good news, UKIP were more or less wiped out, losing all but one of their seats. This to be honest isn’t that surprising, given that the Tories have spent the last few years turning themselves into UKIP. Voting for UKIP was always a protest, hence why they tended to do well in local elections or EU elections with low turn outs. However, once people had a UKIP councillor and realised what a total nob they’d voted for, they are forced to confront the fact that they voted for local government paralysis. The end result was they were always going to do badly in any election where people spent any longer than 5 seconds deciding who to vote for.
Also it should be remembered that the far right parties in the UK (and the rest of Europe) do go through this cycle of doing well, then fighting with each other, imploding, only for another head of the hydra to rise up. Many UKIP members, including Farage himself are ex-members of the National Front or the BNP. So I fear rumours of the far right’s death in the UK are greatly exaggerated. Even if UKIP do now implode, I won’t be surprised if another racist party comes along to take their place, with basically the same people in it.
But back to labour, let us look at four areas, in Glasgow they lost control of the council to the SNP (thanks to a strong swing away from them towards the Tories), in Methyr a similar thing happened, and they lost two Mayoral elections in Teeside and the West Midlands.
Labour losing in Glasgow to the Tories? WTF! Seriously! This is the sort of town where even the Unionists don’t vote Tory. I recall a past EU parliament election where the Tories got just 2,500 votes. By law of averages, half of those were probably spoilt ballot papers. And most of the locals would see that many Tory votes as a reason to form an angry mob and hunt these Tory bastards down and run them out of town. When Thatcher died there was actually a party held in George’s square. Well under Corbyn, labour are now losing elections in Glasgow.
And they also lost control of Methyr Tydfil, the constituency of the labour party’s founder, down in the Welsh valleys. This area was devastated by the miners strike, so if you want to die quickly, go into a bar in Methyr and say something positive about Thatcher. I used to live down the valley from here and one of the reasons why they had to burn Thatcher rather than bury her, was because many of the miners in this part of the world were threatening to go and dance on her grave (or piss on her grave). So they’d have needed to build a dance hall and public toilet on her grave site! But labour now can’t defend seats in a place like this.
However, it is Teeside and the West Midlands that have me most worried. Here labour lost Mayoral elections they should have easily won. Both these areas saw a strong leave vote in the EU referendum (not everywhere, but in certain parts) and Corbyn’s whole justification for his brexit strategy is to keep voters in districts like this on side. And, much as I’ve been warning for some time now, its a strategy that has comprehensively failed. Labour support has gone down, not up. There was a swing in these districts towards the lib dems too (remainers turned off by Corbyn’s pro-leave rhetoric), although they didn’t win that many seats (overall they lost seats thanks to the strong swing to the Tories).
For those unfamiliar with Teeside or the West Midlands, these areas include a large number of people who I would describe as “working class social conservatives”. These are the sort of people who don’t like change, who are insular and suspicious of foreigners, go to church regularly and by and large they don’t really buy into the labour party’s socialist leanings, yet they still vote labour. They do so because they have bitter memories of the unholy mess Thatcher inflicted on them. The West Midlands is fairly multicultural, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, Irish, Nigerian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. Again, quite a lot of these would be regular church (or Mosque) attenders, they tend to be socially conservative, but they have also historically voted labour. And they do so because they are well aware of the racist undercurrents within the Tory party. The Tories might think that when they dog whistle with a nod and a wink nobody except their racists allies hear them. Well I’m afraid we all hear it. Hence why large blocks of people in the UK have historically voted labour, even those whom you would otherwise put in the “conservative” camp.
So what worries me, is that I would see these results as a sign that these communities, faced with the choice between UKIP-lite and a hard left Corbyn, are opting for the Tories. As they see it the choice is to be either shot by Corbyn’s red brigades or poisoned by May’s hard brexit. And they are opting for the poison, after all maybe they can find a cure to that later. And it is in districts like this, but with a stronger Tory base, where the general election will be fought. In short if labour is losing in these four districts in the local elections, areas where historically they won’t even need to bother campaigning, well what chance do they stand in other areas where support for them is historically only marginal?
And the response from Corbyn and his supporters? To make excuses and blame everything and everybody, the voters for a low turn out (actually a low turn out tends to benefit the smaller parties, not the bigger parties or the governing party), the Tories, the lib dems, even accusing his own party of disloyalty. Much as a bad tradesman blames his tools a bad leader blames his rotten luck and his own staff for his failings. A truly awful boss blames his customers (or voters). Is it fair the Tories are holding an election now? No, but in warfare you rarely get to chose the time and place of battle, fate or the enemy chooses it for you. Politics is much the same.
And if staff are disloyal, well that does kind of suggests you ain’t very good at the job of being a leader. Only a bad leader spends all his days accusing his staff of disloyalty. As I’ve pointed out before its not Corbyn’s left wing views that are the issue. Most labour MP’s are not secret Blairites, Tories in all but name, with Thatcher tee-shirts under their suits (as Corbyn would have you believe). I’ve met MP’s before and most are actually fairly left wing, maybe not as left wing as Corbyn, but certainly more to the left than your average person. What puts them off Corbyn is that they see him as unelectable and utterly clueless when it comes to running a political party.
Case in point, the tale of lieutenant Sobel. He was the drill instructor who took easy company (of band of Brothers fame) through basic training. By all accounts he was tough on his trainees and drill them rigorously. Many veterans credit him with preparing them well for combat in Normandy. However, he was hopeless as a field commander. During training exercises in England, he got his men lost, marched the company into an obvious ambush and worse still he refused to listen to advice from others (a bit like Corbyn). As a result, on the eve of D-day, all of his NCO’s simultaneously resigned and requested transfers (again a bit like the labour party under Corbyn!). The Army promptly replaced him. Which might seem harsh, but if a leader is looking over his shoulder and questioning his men’s loyalty and the troops are starting to question his orders, before they’ve even made contact with the enemy, the worse thing you could do is send them into combat. That would be leading lambs to the slaughter.
And its kind of the same with labour. Corbyn has some excellent qualities. He’s a good orator and he’s good at calling out the Tories lies and hypocrisy. If I wanted to organise a protest, he’s the person to call. But he’s not a leader. While it might seem crazy for labour to change leader so close to an election, the truth is labour is doing badly because they don’t have a leader and haven’t had one for nearly a year.
In short labour faces a choice between two unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where Corbyn remains leader, leads the party to its worse defeat in living memory and the Tories win with a landslide that exceeds Tony Blair. He then refuses to go and leads labour into political annihilation and obscurity, probably sinking left wing politics in the UK for a generation. Or he resigns, the party deputy leader takes over, they get a poll bounce and while I doubt they could win, they might just cut down that Tory majority. And that’s crucial because the smaller the Tory majority, the more leeway labour has to prevent a hard far right brexit.