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Editorial Lessons of the local elections

THE complex picture painted by local elections in most parts of England yesterday has been reduced to a public backlash against both government and opposition.

Combined with significant gains for the Liberal Democrats and an excellent result for the Greens, parties which have made no secret of their desire to overturn the 2016 referendum result, this is being spun in some quarters as evidence that the public are shifting against Brexit.

In others the result is seen as a popular backlash against Labour and the Conservatives for failing to deliver Brexit. Large numbers of spoilt ballots, many carrying pro-Brexit messages, are used to back this interpretation.

The socialist left needs to be more forensic. 

First, the monopoly media is good at diverting attention from a Tory Party in chaos to try to make Labour look like a basket case. But the overwhelming losers of the locals were the Tories.

Not all results were finalised when the Morning Star went to press, but the Tories had lost nearly 1,000 seats by that point compared to just over 100 lost by Labour — a bad night for the opposition was 10 times worse for the government.

Second, the majority of Lib Dem gains were from the Conservatives. Since many areas of the country are Tory-Lib Dem battlegrounds, big reverses for one neoliberal outfit can exaggerate the progress of the other.

In 2015 the Lib Dem collapse gifted many parliamentary seats to the Tories without the latter needing to increase their vote at all.

Turnout in local elections is always low, and these were no exception.

But with many spoilt ballots citing a failure to get on with leaving the EU and some expressing a desire to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party — which did not stand in the locals but still tops the polls for the coming European elections — we can assume that more people who felt they couldn’t trust any of the options to honour the referendum result would stay at home than go to the effort of spoiling their ballot papers.

A politics polarised over Brexit therefore saw the vote for anti-Brexit parties mobilised while pro-Brexit voters stayed away for lack of options.

Pro-Remain politicians will say Ukip’s very bad result, losing scores of seats, contradicts this. But Ukip is no longer primarily associated with support for leaving the EU — hence its equally poor projected showing at the European elections.

The party’s lurch towards hard-right street thuggery and “clash of civilisations” racism is turning voters away in droves — an undoubted positive which should give anti-fascists confidence that racism can be confronted and defeated in Britain.

The Tory collapse is the second major positive we need to exploit. The crisis at the favoured ruling party of British capitalism is acute — with local members increasingly disavowing any association with the party’s national leadership. The Tories are trying to retain the support of big business, which is overwhelmingly pro-EU, and of their voter and activist base, which opposes the EU, and on current form they are failing.

And then there is Labour. As shadow housing secretary John Healey points out, Labour made gains and losses in Remain and Leave areas alike.

But to lose seats overall shows that the party is failing to mobilise the overwhelming desire for change that saw it advance so fast in 2017.

If Labour seeks to be a party of transformative government it cannot rely on appealing merely to a minority as the Lib Dems are doing (with their big gains not altering the fact that in overall vote they remained far behind Labour or Tories).

It needs to light the touchpaper of a community and workplace movement for change that inspires Leave and Remain voters alike.

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