Labour can win as the anti-austerity party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2020 writes Diane Abbott MP
IF I had to sum up the situation for Labour in last week’s elections in one phrase, I would say: “Steady progress.”
As party leader Jeremy Corbyn put it at our Parliamentary Labour Party meeting this week, last week’s election results put Labour in the right direction to secure a majority in four years’ time.
Crucially, our national share of the vote (the most important indicator) was up. At the 2015 general election we were nearly seven points behind — now we are a point ahead.
Or as Jon Trickett MP put it: “That means that in the first national test of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, we have beaten the Tories.”
To give more detail, Labour won more councillors than other parties at nearly half of the 2,769 council seats contested — the Tories won 30 per cent — and has the overall majority of 58 of the 124 councils up for election.
If you compare it with last year’s general election, not only have we increased our share of the vote, but crucially we have control of key marginal councils across the Midlands and South of England in areas such as Worcester, Redditch, Derby, Ipswich, Norwich, Harlow, Crawley, Southampton and Hastings.
Prior to the election, people have been arguing that to win in these kind of areas, we need to move to the right — but under Jeremy we have shown we can win people’s support.
In England as a whole the votes for the council elections were a clear Labour lead in terms of the vote share, with Labour on 38.5 per cent, the Conservatives next on 27.1 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 12.8 per cent, Ukip on 10.9 per cent and the Greens on 6 per cent.
We also won all the mayoral contests we ran in. In London Sadiq Khan won a landslide with 57 per cent of the vote. We increased our vote across London in the Assembly elections.
In Bristol, Marvin Rees, who was Labour’s candidate four years ago, more than doubled his vote to win with 63 per cent and we won control of the council.
We won victories in the mayoralties in Liverpool and Salford.
In Wales we have won 29 seats out of 60, one down, but higher than in 2007, 2003 and 1999.
There were two parliamentary by-elections we won as well.
Remember, we had a catastrophic result last year in Scotland and this result was after a long drawn-out process.
We also have to recognise there is a more fragmented electorate and party system than in generations gone by. We have had the rise of the SNP and Plaid Cymru on the one hand, and the rise of Ukip on the other, plus many other developments.
All these achievements from Jeremy-led Labour are in the face of the most concerted campaign of denigration any Labour leader has ever endured in such a short space of time.
And as Labour leader, Jeremy has also unfortunately faced unprecedented levels of complaints, attacks and criticism from a few members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The majority of party members — representing a wide range of views on a wide range of issues — would like the tiny group of MPs who have been so vociferous in attacking Jeremy’s leadership to finally respect his mandate.
What do we need to do now? We need to keep doing what Jeremy’s leadership has been doing — to reframe the political debate.
After the general election, prominent figures in our party were saying we needed to abstain on welfare cuts, including on cuts to tax credits, and move to the right on the austerity agenda.
In contrast, Jeremy took the battle to the Tories on the proposed cuts to tax credits, won the argument and defeated them. We did it again on the proposed cuts to PIP disability benefits. Indeed, my colleague Jonathan Ashworth has this week detailed 24 Tory government U-turns!
These government retreats are not an accident — they are a consequence of Labour’s approach. Labour has firmly opposed the Conservative attacks on working people and started to shift the terms of the debate.
We need to keep doing more of that, not least because what is often referred to as “Middle England” cares as much about the NHS, our schools, gross levels of widening inequality and the deepening housing crisis as do long-term Labour voters.
I also firmly believe that with such an approach Labour can increase turnout in the 2020 election. The party has over 400,000 members and can also harness this energy to help change the political landscape.
This is only the first stage in our task of building a winning electoral majority, attracting voters from other parties and mobilising those who have been turned off politics altogether. This is the beginning of something, not the end of everything. Join us and get involved.
Diane Abbott is shadow international development secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. She will be speaking at a London Labour Left meeting on the next steps for Labour, alongside former GLA member Murad Qureshi, a Unite representative, Sam Tarry from the TSSA and councillor Claudia Webbe on Thursday May 19 at Unite the Union (London & Eastern region), 33-37 Moreland Street, London, EC1V 8BB from 7-9pm. Please register in advance.