The party could see its worst result in 34 years, according to one academic
Cast your minds back to the local council elections of 1990. It was the last electoral test of the Thatcher government which saw the Conservatives lose 222 councillors and their share of the vote fall by 3 percentage points from the year before.
And yet, despite the disastrous results Conservative Central Office successfully managed to portray it as a successful evening. The secret lay in the strategy adopted by the then party chairman, Ken (now Lord) Baker.
Aware of the drubbing the party faced, the spin operation throughout the campaign sought to focus the media’s minds on the Conservatives holding the flagship authorities of Westminster and Wandsworth. Having achieved this objective the party was seen to have successfully met its own bar of success.
Fast forward to today and those around Jeremy Corbyn have sought to adopt the same strategy, banking on victory for Sadiq Khan in the London Mayoral Election to be a sign of great triumph, whatever else happens around the rest of the country.
As the voters prepare to go to the polls on Thursday, the party faithful – those with a desire to get back into government rather than engage in protest politics – need to prepare for a dreadful evening.
In Scotland, Labour, once the dominant force, has been eclipsed by the SNP. No route back to Downing Street for the Labour Party is likely without a considerable upsurge in support across Scotland. What it faces this week is the high likelihood of the party, while unlikely to fall third behind the Tories, losing seats to them instead.
Indeed, the SNP look set to achieve a remarkable feat: a third term in government, picking up yet more seats up from those it gained in 2011.
The reality is that Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of politics has had little discernible impact on voters north of the border, and it is difficult to see how the party gets out of the Scottish rut it now finds itself in.
Similarly in Wales, there is now a very real danger of the party facing a similar feeling of malaise. In 2014 it came close to coming second to UKIP in its share of the vote in the European elections.
In the general election Labour actually lost seats, despite the predictions of it picking up new ones, and all the polling predicts Labour losing ground in Wales and needing to rely on Plaid Cymru once again to prop it up in government.
And then there are the local council elections. In an analysis for the Telegraph, Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has predicted Labour could lose up to 170 council seats on Thursday, in what would be the worst performance for the party while in opposition for 34 years.
What is alarming is how complacent those around the leader have become in factoring such heavy losses into whatever strategy they might have. Yes, the last time these seats were fought in 2012 was in the wake of the government’s omnishambles budget, but in many respects the conditions should be even better for Labour now.
The Conservatives are tearing themselves apart on Europe while the chancellor is looking more vulnerable than ever following a budget which sparked a resignation from the cabinet of a former party leader.
Yes, a victory in London would be welcome, but it cannot and must not mask the devastation the party faces at the end of the week. Seen in the context of a path to Downing Street in 2020, the party will, barring some remarkable last minute change in fortune, face a serious setback rather than major step forward.
Corbyn and his team need to show that they have a clear and coherent plan to get Labour back into power – reaching out to those middle-England voters that decide elections. At this stage it is questionable whether it has one.
Tony Blair and David Cameron give the clearest examples of how to do it. Leaders who take their parties out of the wilderness are those who challenge their parties, not those who affirm strategies that do not work.
For the good of the country we need an opposition that looks and sounds like a credible government in waiting. What we have is a party increasingly rudderless and in need of shock therapy to get it back into the game.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward
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