The local government elections of May 3rd were not good news for those of us who hold progressive left-of-centre views. True, UKIP are now finished as an electoral force, but most of their Europhobe votes have found a home with Theresa May’s Conservatives – thus buttressing the faction within her party that supports a hard Brexit.
The leading election guru David Cowling, in his analysis, described the elections as an ugly baby contest. He has a point: there seem to be little enthusiasm for anything or anybody. Despite this, the percentage voting remained at the normal level for a local government contests, so, thank goodness, there is no evidence of a loss of faith in electoral democracy.
Labour did not do well and lame excuses will not do. I was particularly saddened to see the result in Muswell Hill, in the London Borough of Haringey, where we had lived between 1987 and 2001. All three council seats were captured by the LibDems, as were the other wards in the more prosperous parts of the Borough that lie to the west of the railway line. In part this reflects Jeremy Corbyn’s abject handling of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party: there is a significant Jewish community in Haringey. However much more is at stake.
At its best the Labour Party has always been an alliance between those in need and those who care. Those in need in the most urban areas will, on the evidence of May 3rd, continue to vote Labour almost irrespective of policy and leadership. Set against this, organised Labour as expressed through the trade union movement has ceased to be a significant political force, beyond the crudest defence of public sector jobs. Labour is therefore increasingly reliant on those who care: West Haringey is full of such people and it is bad news for Labour if they are prepared to migrate to the LibDems.
Much of the election analysis has concentrated on Labour’s relatively poor performance in the smaller cities and the towns that voted leave in the 2016 referendum. The argument here is that Labour needs to develop new policies to deal with the economic decline and the accompanying social problems that affect such localities. While this is undoubtedly true, it offers nothing to rural areas like the one where I now live. There were no elections here in North Norfolk in 2018, but the local LibDems will doubtless be hoping that the ‘leafy suburbs of London’ effect will have spread to the more rural areas by May next year when we go to the polls here. Labour currently hold none of the 48 council seats in North Norfolk and since Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent to the leadership the local party is firmly in the hands of Momentum. However, as was proved beyond doubt on May 3rd, cults don’t win elections. It is not looking good.
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