There’s no doubt about it: the local elections have been a disaster for the Conservatives – and far from a victory for the Labour Party.
The Tories have lost 490 council seats in England, Wales and Scotland, with blame being placed squarely on the shoulders of Boris Johnson for his Partygate scandal and his failure to keep the cost of living within reasonable levels.
Conservative MPs are certain to be discussing whether Johnson has a future as prime minister over the next few days, before starting to make decisions about it after the new Parliamentary session begins.
They will also discuss the policy direction of Johnson’s government, with Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh quoted by the BBC as saying, “I do think radical change in the policy is required and, if it doesn’t happen, there really isn’t an electoral future for the party, because I think it will get crucified at the next election having bombed the economy.
“And if the team [running the government] is not able to adapt to reality, then the team needs to make way for someone else.”
But Labour – or at least Keir Starmer’s side of it – is in an equally precarious situation after voters gave a lukewarm response to his offer.
His party made some gains in London – and crowed about taking over Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet councils from the Tories – but lost Harrow council to the Tories, while the mayoralties of Croydon and Tower Hamlets also went to a Tory and to Lutfur Rahman and his Aspire organisation respectively.
Labour gains outside London were hardly worth mentioning. It took the new Cumberland unitary authority, and Southampton – but failed to take authorities where it had been expected to make gains, including Hartlepool, Peterborough, Redditch and Ipswich.
While the Tories have lost support in the south of England, Labour lost more in the north. It seems to have drained from both parties to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.
Of all Labour’s net gains – 137 seats, 65 of them were in Wales where the party is led by “continuity Corbyn” First Minister Mark Drakeford. The contrast is made more clear if we compare Labour’s gains with those of the Greens.
In England, Labour gained 52 seats while the Greens gained 60.
In Scotland, Labour won 20 seats with the Greens close behind on 16.
But in Wales, Labour was boosted by 65 seats, while the Greens could only muster up an extra eight.
The message is clear: the voting public doesn’t want Starmer’s tepid Tory policies; we want a genuine alternative to the Conservative nightmare that has engulfed the UK for more than 12 years, and we won’t be told his party of empty suits is the only alternative.
Indeed, as Skwawkbox quoted a left-winger in Harrow: “Despite expelling their best activists, despite purging all the left who wanted to stand despite disenfranchising in a most brutal persistent fashion, [Labour has] shown a talent for catastrophe with all [its] handpicked candidates.”
But you won’t hear that from Starmer himself! He’s living in a fantasy England where Labour is on the crest of a wave: “From the depths in 2019 we are back on track now for the general election, showing what the change that we’ve done, the hard change that we’ve done in the last two years, what a difference it has made.”
He actually claimed the results marked a “massive turning-point for the Labour Party”.
So perhaps it is just as well that he is about to have his attention occupied by a police investigation into whether he broke the law by having a beer in a Labour MP’s office during Covid-19 lockdown.
Durham Police had said it would not re-open an investigation into the incident in April last year, when Starmer was taking part in an online event ahead of a by-election in neighbouring Hartlepool.
But immediately after the local elections took place, the service changed its story, saying it had received “significant new information” but had delayed an announcement until after the vote.
If the finding is that the Labour leader did break the law, he will face calls from Tory MPs demanding that he resign. Sauce for the goose; he has demanded Boris Johnson’s resignation after the prime minister was fined for the same offence, after all. And if Starmer is fined, both leaders will be said to have lied about it.
But there is a significant difference between them: Johnson drew up the rules by which he demanded the rest of us should live, and it was on his behalf that police forces across the UK enforced those rules. He then deliberately broke those rules. And then he lied about having broken them to Parliament, which is an offence for which an MP may be expelled.
Starmer may have merely broken the rules while believing he was following them.
Ultimately, the difference may be irrelevant; Starmer has failed to win convincingly in a midterm election and is therefore unlikely to win a general election, so his party’s “grey suits” may use the so-called “BeerGate” affair as an excuse to remove him.
Either way, it seems clear that neither the Tory nor Labour leader should feel secure in their jobs.
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