Britain: local elections were a Tory bloodbath

Local elections took place in Britain on 2 May, in which nearly 9,000 seats across over 250 councils were being contested. They told a story of anger, apathy, and disillusionment. The Tories are clearly in crisis. The unholy alliance of the media and the Blairites have used the opportunity to further their campaign to sabotage the chances of Labour coming to power. Corbyn has tried to bring the focus away from Brexit and towards class issues. This is the best way forward.

These local elections are not comparable to a general election. There were no elections in Scotland, Wales, London, and other areas of the country. This was not a vote for the national government. Crucially, Corbyn was not able to set out his full programme for government around which a mass movement could be galvanised. The picture at a general election would be dramatically different.

Turnout in these elections was lower than in previous years. And the campaign trail has been more hostile. Canvassers from all parties have reported more doors slammed in their faces – with accompanying foul language – than normal. A Tory candidate in Colchester was punched while out campaigning, as was a Labour councillor in Great Yarmouth.

In January it was reported that 83 percent of people felt that the entire political establishment had failed them on Brexit. Clearly tensions have been high in the Brexit-charged atmosphere of these elections.

Winners and losers

Smaller parties have gained in these elections, primarily at the expense of the Tories. The Liberal Democrats are claiming a triumphant comeback, particularly in seats where they had been second to the Tories. But this should be set against losses of over 400 seats at the same elections four years ago, and a very low turnout this time around.

The big story of these elections is the bloodbath of Tory councillors, which has gone beyond even their worst nightmares. The Tories have haemorrhaged votes, seats, and control of councils. The Conservative Party lost over 1,300 local council seats in total.

May Tory conf Image Socialist AppealThe Tories lost over 1,300 council seats to Labour's 82. Yet the media is spinning the result as an equal blow for both parties / Image: Socialist Appeal

Their Brexit bungling has led to traditional Tory voters staying home. Even Tory activists have been on strike, according to 100 councillors who reported that they couldn’t get canvassers out for the party.

This is a disaster for the Tories. John Strafford, the chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy pointed out: “The reason the Tories are nervous about losing seats is because councillors and their families now mainly constitute the activist base of the party.”

Strafford explained that the Tories currently have 10-15,000 activists around the country. But they need 50,000 to fight the next general election. Every councillor lost for the Tories is another nail in the coffin of their Westminster government.

Labour has also lost seats, although nothing close to the carnage facing the Tories. This hasn’t stopped the mass media from trying to drag Labour down with the Tories by suggesting this was an equal defeat for both parties. In fact, Labour’s losses amounted to 6 percent of those of the Tories.

Media lies about this election are part of the campaign to undermine Corbyn. Their underhand attempts to discredit Corbyn are being cheerfully supplemented by the right wing of the Labour Party. They are trying to blame this on Corbyn and link it to Brexit and their call for a second referendum.

Corbyn and Brexit are the two biggest threats facing the British ruling class. The establishment cheerleaders in the media and the Blairite wing of the Party are hoping to neutralise both of these threats at once by claiming that Corbyn has lost these elections, and that it’s because he doesn’t support staying in the EU. Unfortunately for them, the facts get in the way of this particular story.

What’s Brexit got to do with it?

Brexit has loomed large over these elections. Hundreds of spoilt ballots have appeared with Brexit-related slogans scrawled across them, both Remain and Leave. It’s clear that, for many Tory voters, the Brexit issue has been decisive.

The Blairites are trying to claim the same thing about Labour voters, to bolster their claim that Corbyn should back a second referendum on the EU. As per usual, however, the claims of the Blairites have no basis in reality.

Where Labour has lost seats, it’s been in Leave-voting areas – hardly people clamouring for a second referendum. Where the Liberal Democrats have gained, there’s been little correlation with Remain-voting areas, despite their single-issue focus on a so-called ‘People’s Vote’.

While the Blairites harp on about nothing other than a second referendum, most people are just sick of Brexit. Working-class households can’t pay the bills, can’t get a doctors’ appointment, and can’t find a job that pays a decent wage. Workers and youth want to see a Labour Party that fights on class issues first and foremost.

The 2017 general election proved this in practice. It was by mobilising a mass movement and fighting on class issues that Corbyn reduced the Tories to a minority government. Working-class people are ready to fight for their living and working conditions.

What’s the relevance of local councils?

It’s breathtaking to see the Blairites blaming Corbyn’s leadership for Labour losses in these local elections. In most Labour-controlled areas, local councils are run by Blairite councillors who have been implementing Tory cuts for years.

This is why people are furious at politics, and it is why Labour have lost seats. People are rightly asking what the Labour Party in local government has ever done for them. Instead of seeing themselves as administrators of Tory cuts, why have Labour councillors not been organising campaigns against them?

Corbyn’s message has been consistently against austerity. And Labour’s history is rich with examples of Labour councils leading the fight against cuts. But Corbyn has remained isolated at the top of the Labour Party. His anti-austerity programme has not been taken up by Labour councillors.

If Labour had run its election campaign on the basis of building a mass movement at a local level, led by councillors, to fight the cuts and refuse to implement cuts, it could have swept the board.

It is the sniping and undermining of Corbyn by the Blairite party-within-a-party that has prevented this. They have preferred to slander Corbyn and drag the party into the swamp of a second referendum, which turns people off the Labour Party and politics in general.

What next?

The pressure is now on the Tories to stop their haemorrhage on the right. Unlike in these local elections, on 23 May at the European elections, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party will be standing. This threatens to reduce the Tories to fourth place in those elections.

The ranks of the Tory Party are clamouring for a shift to the right, demanding a hard Brexit. Conservative MPs and party members are calling on Theresa May to step down as leader immediately. Contenders to the throne are already plotting their next move. The prospect of a hard-right Tory becoming the new leader, therefore, seems increasingly likely.

Austerity demo Image Flickr Julian StallabrassLabour councils have carried out austerity, which is part of the reason the party lost ground, making Blairite claims that Corbyn was responsbile for council losses laughable / Image: Flickr Julian Stallabrass

With the Tories in such a deep crisis, now is the time for the Corbyn movement to go on the offensive. Class issues and a socialist programme can garner mass support amongst workers and youth under these conditions.

Local elections, in which turnout is very low, provide only a partial snapshot of the political mood. We should remember, for example, that in 2017 Labour didn’t perform well in the local elections. But only a month later, Corbyn and Labour surged ahead at the general election, thanks to the focus on class issues.

The Tories are in meltdown. A general election is on the cards in the coming months. And Labour is currently ahead in the polls. Going into a general election, the stronger and more united the Labour Party is on the need to fight for socialist policies, the better it will do. It is the Blairites who stand in the way of this unity. They actively sabotage the anti-austerity fight being led by Corbyn.

We have seen how Blairite councillors clearly aren’t vote-winners. We need socialists who will lead the fight against austerity, against the Tories, and against the profit-driven capitalist system – in deeds, and not just in words. Socialist policies and fighting candidates who will carry these out are the recipe for a Labour victory.