The catastrophic defeat for Labour in the recent local elections has many people proclaiming the end for the party, but was the result as bad as it is being advertised and can they win their core voter base back? Christina Major investigates.
The 6th May saw many elections in one day, including elections for the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments, as well as mayoral elections and local councils. Along with a by-election, one of which, Hartlepool, got a lot of attention.
143 Councils were to be elected – following this Labour lost 8 councils which numbered 327 councillors. Some of these defeats were in the North East (the former ‘Red Wall’), such as Durham, which has been red since 1925.
This has fuelled the idea that the party is collapsing, with the loss of their core base, which has typically been working class and generally less well-off compared to wealthy areas that traditionally vote Conervative.
Despite this, the local elections were not as bad as they may seem on the face, with all Labour mayors returned to their posts and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough switching to Labour.
The Hartlepool Election
This by-election gained a lot of media coverage, voting Conservative for the first time since its creation in 1974. It was a Labour safe seat. However, the turnout was only 42.3%, dramatically lower than the turn out in the general elections, for example in England in 2019 it was 67.5% and the UK overall 67.3%. (https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/general-election-2019-turnout/) By-elections always tend to have less publicity and turnout, which throws into doubt the legitimacy of a claim of party collapse based on a smaller sample size than before, not to mention the impact of the Brexit Party vote being absorbed by the Tories.
Was the change in leadership a factor?
The previous leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, offered a more radical platform – for example promising a Brexit renegotiation and subsequent referendum, and an increase in the minimum wage. Starmer had originally kept the same position as Corbyn, however since the finalisation of the withdrawal agreement he has promised to move on from Brexit.
A large factor in his loss may have been the choice of candidate, as the party’s choice of prospective parliamentary candidate was a prominent remainer, contrasting against the backdrop of a very strong Leave vote in Hartlepool. Furthermore, the success of the vaccine rollout has undoubtedly overshadowed protestations against Conservative mismanagement of the pandemic.
A poll from YouGov (https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2020/07/13/keir-starmer-jeremy-corbyn-compare-labour-leaders) shows that a large majority of people (69%) see the previous and current Labour leaders as different – this suggests that it may be a more fundamental issue of policy not being radical enough than with leadership, although it is still a key factor.
The local elections were a chance for the Party to regain control of key areas that were lost after the General election, but after claims of being an ineffective opposition and the success of the Conservatives with a vaccine roll-out, they were unable to do so.
The most recent elections have been bad for the Labour party, but are unlikely to spell the total collapse of the party, with Brexit fading out of political discourse slowly but surely, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the actions taken by the government during it being scrutinised, we may see a resurgence in support for the party – especially in light of Dominic Cumming’s most recent claims.
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Article edited by Connor Wade – Politics Editor