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Fake news surrounds Labour's electoral progress

Last week, Labour built on last year’s historic vote at the general election despite months of unrelenting hostility from much of the media, writes Matt Willgress

ALTHOUGH you might not have read much about it, there were a lot of good news stories for Labour in the local elections. Nationally, the results show Labour is another step closer to power. 

As John McDonnell said, “people thought the general election result was a fluke ... we’ve demonstrated it wasn’t. We’ve consolidated that and we’ve moved it forward in terms of percentage share of the vote.”

To take the results as a whole, Labour won 1,018 seats more than the Tories. The Tories lost 33 seats. Labour gained 77.

Comparing with the 2017 local elections, Labour got a 35 per cent vote share (up eight), the Tories on 35 (down three) and the Lib Dems on 16 (down two).

Labour’s performance at 35 per cent is the party’s best local election projected national share since 2012. 

According to the BBC, Labour would be the largest party if the results were replicated in a general election. Specifically, Labour would have 283 MPs, adding 21 seats to its 2017 result, while the Tories would have 280, down 38. The Lib Dems would be on 22, up 10.

This would mean that, even with the support of the DUP and the Lib Dems, the Conservatives wouldn’t be able to cling onto power.

While it’s true there was some defensive consolidation from the Tories, often based on the collapse of Ukip, the way they were seeking to spin it as a positive night doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, especially as they lost control of Trafford, Plymouth, Kingston and Richmond.

Claims of a significant Lib Dem revival are exaggerated. They gained seats, but that was after losing 300 in 2014 when the same councils were up for election.

So, in addition to winning Plymouth, Kirklees and Tower Hamlets, what were some of the Labour good news stories?

In Portsmouth, winning the council was never a possibility as only a third of the seats were up for election. 

But Labour won four new seats and its share of the vote went up 12 points to an impressive 31.5 per cent, prompting BBC South political editor Peter Henley to tweet: “Labour jubilant in Portsmouth, vote up substantially after Momentum turned out 4x usual number of campaigners, now winning seats they’ve never won before.”

In Swindon, again only a third of the seats were up for grabs, but Labour won the popular vote, registering a 10.2-point increase, winning an extra councillor and putting Labour in a good position to win the South Swindon parliamentary seat.

And how about London? While the Evening Standard claimed: “there is a Corbyn effect: it’s holding Labour back,” Labour increased its councillors by 54 to 1,114 and made a net gain of one council, now controlling 21 of 31.

It’s important to understand that the situation in some of the specific boroughs cited as councils Labour should have won has been misrepresented.

As Jeremy Corbyn said, “It’s a sign of how worried they are about Labour’s advance, the Tories talked up our chances to unrealistic levels, especially in London.

“The results show they’re right to be worried — we came within a whisker of winning Wandsworth for the first time in over 40 years.”

More people voted Labour, 123,208, than Conservative, 121,295, in Wandsworth and Barry Gardiner MP has said that 141 more votes in four wards would have won the council.

Westminster has always had a Tory council since it was created, but Labour’s vote surged from 33.5 per cent to 41.1 per cent.

Labour won four seats in its best result since 1986 and was in touching distance of the Tories’ 42.8 per cent vote, putting Labour in a strong position to win the parliamentary constituency of Westminster and Cities.

In terms of Kensington & Chelsea, it’s important to understand that this is the richest borough in London, and has always been ruled by the Tories since it was created in 1964.

Nonetheless, Labour won nearly 9,000 more votes than 2014, going from 33.2 per cent to 38.9 per cent.

In the wards that make up Kensington’s parliamentary constituency, which went from a 7,361-vote Tory majority in 2015 to a narrow 20-vote strong Labour majority in 2017, Labour’s results were hugely encouraging.

The point of citing these examples is not to say that all is rosy and there were no disappointing results but rather to correct a misleading, one-sided narrative from much of the Tory-supporting media — such as an Evening Standard front page saying “Oh No – Jeremy Corbyn” — which has also said that Labour’s increased campaigning capacity did not improve our vote.

In response to this, Owen Jones was right to point out: “Campaigning works [and] is a counterweight to a press that is overwhelmingly supportive of the Tories, to a Tory Party bankrolled by exceptionally wealthy vested interests.

“The Tories want to undermine Labour supporters’ faith in campaigning because they know it represents one of the greatest threats to their rule.” 

Of course, increased doorstep campaigning on its own doesn’t mean the Tories will go and Labour will win. 

We need to continue to win and popularise the argument that there is an alternative to austerity and for Labour’s programme for the many not the few.

Alongside this, we need to step up local and national campaigns against the Tories and their agenda of cuts, racism and war — politics doesn’t just take place at elections time.

We should also be clear that winning a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government on a genuinely transformative platform was never going to be easy and the Tories — and the powerful economic forces in society they represent — were always going to fight hard against him and what the movement of hope behind him represents.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Tories understand that, which is why they will continue to put up an even bigger fight in the months ahead. We need to understand that too.    

Matt Willgress is the national organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. You can join them for a discussion on Corbynomics Explained at Arise – A Festival of Labour’s Left Ideas on July 27-28. Discounted tickets are available at arise-festival.com 
 

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