Questions Being Asked of Labour After Local Election Result // Opinion
The 6th of May and the subsequent weekend, where the extent of the damage done to the Labour Party’s power at local government level became clear, was painful for all of us who are Party members or of a progressive persuasion.
Such events have become ritualistically painful—and embarrassing, given that the losses are tending now to come in traditionally working class, Labour-supporting areas, not just swing seats.
So it was in Worcester this time around, where we lost four Labour seats—three to the Conservatives and one to the Green Party; each one either representing part of a former council estate, or else a long-term Labour-supporting area. We also lost two of the four County Council seats we held within the city boundaries to the Conservatives, with the same socioeconomic and demographic rules applying.
It is a sobering moment for Labour, and solutions to it are not simple, though there are obvious points to be made.
Certainly there will be things that every local party could or would do differently, but this was an abandonment of the national party. There is little to no enthusiasm to vote or campaign for the Labour Party amongst the majority of people at this moment in time.
Why? Isn’t Keir Starmer a new broom with which to sweep away the ‘calamity’ of the Corbyn years? Won’t people respond to his numerous ‘demolitions’ of Boris Johnson at PMQs?
The truth is that, after a year of Starmer’s leadership, Labour has failed to endear itself to those it lost before, and it has actively chosen to alienate many of its most loyal supporters on top of this. The favourite refrain of the new regime has effectively been to question why anyone would have voted Labour in 2019—neglecting or ignoring the fact that Labour attracted over 10 million votes in that election.
As a result, we in Worcester, as elsewhere, found our vote nibbled at from both sides; the Tories’ “levelling up” rhetoric here, and the Greens’ breezy, almost apolitical, appeal there.
Compared to Labour’s bloodless, tired messaging, inward-looking castigation of its own membership and questioning of the sanity of its own regular voters, either alternative presented a guilt-free option for many people burned out after the last five or so turbulent, unpleasant years and looking for better.
Without a root there can be no flower. Labour must focus its energies on building from the bottom up, taking inspiration from the rare success stories of a few weeks ago—Preston, Salford, Worthing and Portsmouth, for example. The Party should be giving activists in the provinces the tools and the trust needed to build consent for the optimistic, community-based municipal outlook that Preston’s Labour council has become famous for.
That means places like Worcester, Redditch, Bromsgrove and Kidderminster should be foremost in the Party’s mind, as well as doing the easier work of assuring its base in the big cities, through its messaging and policy proposals, that it is still with them.
It is an existential moment, and paring the Party’s campaigning capacity—shutting down the ‘Community Organising Unit’, for example—is absolutely the wrong way to go about tackling it.
While the leadership continues to constrict its operation to the corridors of Westminster in both its tone and priorities—the John Lewis episode a particular low point—then it will continue to falter, and while smaller local parties are hostages to the fortunes of the leadership, devoid of the resources with which to build distinctive local visions, the more Labour councillors, and the more power to enact change, we will lose.
In the modern era, populism is not a dirty word. Nor is it a trait only of the right; just look at how ex-footballers (and Labour supporters) Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were able to mobilise epic levels of public support in their condemnation of the breathtakingly ugly proposals for a European Super League. Look too at how they did it: by appealing to the history, traditions and loves of everyday people.
There is no excuse for Labour not doing the same. Saying nothing in front of a flag is worth no more than saying nothing in front of a red background or a green bench. It is time for serious politics, rooted in communities and practiced with passion.