'Against this hugely unpopular government, a really clear opposition with policies and messaging that show we are on the side of ordinary people can yield massive results'
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
One of the most damning yet accurate assessments of the Labour performance in last Thursday’s elections was made by Professor John Curtice who said that, “outside London it appears as if Labour has gone backwards compared to Jeremy Corbyn”.
That seems undeniable. So, all talk of progress, or of another ‘turning-point’ is delusional. There is clearly a danger that it is self-delusional.
As Sir Alex Ferguson used to say, the league table doesn’t lie. In England, the Tories took a beating. They lost about one quarter of their council seats up for election, 338 in total. In the final tally, Labour made net gains of just 22 seats.
These were mid-term elections for a deeply unpopular government. So unpopular that the Tories campaigned as if the ‘local Conservatives’ were disassociated from the national party. If that fooled anyone, it was not enough to prevent a Tory rout.
Yet Labour was barely among the beneficiaries of the Tory collapse. LibDems and Greens gained a combined 255 seats, more than 10 times the Labour gains. Even ‘Independents’ won more than Labour.
One of the very few exceptions, where we both won and lost seats was London. But as a former Westminster councillor, it was particularly gratifying to see the Tories booted out by Labour there, as well as in Barnet and Wandsworth.
London is the exception though, not the rule. Inequalities of wealth and income have reached an extreme where many younger people, even those in relatively well-paid jobs cannot afford to buy their homes and are instead forced to share extortionate rents. This is a far bigger outlay for many even than surging prices for energy, fares and food. No wonder they are so angry with this government especially as many will also be smarting from the increase in student loan repayments.
The capital aside, there were no signs of progress in the English results. Scotland, which is vital to Labour’s prospects of becoming a government, was not qualitatively better. Yes, we did pick an extra 20 seats (almost the same as our gains in England), but the Tories lost 63 seats in total (and Independents lost 15).
So Scottish Labour got only about a quarter of the seats that were gained. This does not lay the basis for the surge in Scotland needed to put Keir Starmer in Number 10, and party leaders north and south of the border have set their face against an agreement with the SNP.
The only other bright spot was in Wales, where we won 66 of the 86 seats the Tories lost, to become the clearly leading party. The Drakeford administration is significantly to the left of the Starmer leadership, with policies that help soften the cost of living crisis.
We should be making enormous gains in elections like these. The government’s unpopularity is driven by a sharpening of that cost of living crisis, as well as other issues such as the crisis in NHS. Prior to a general election, the Tories are sure to offer some sort of giveaways to lure back voters. So, getting a national share of the vote at 35%, as happened last week, is probably not enough to get us into government unless there is a change of course.
But the situation is not hopeless. Against this hugely unpopular government, a really clear opposition with policies and messaging that show we are on the side of ordinary people can yield massive results. Ordinary people need a complete change in government policy. We can provide the change they need.