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Editorial: Two parallel pictures, with mixed fortunes for Starmer’s Labour

THE local election results have generated two parallel conversations. First off, Labour did especially well in London, with the flagship Tory boroughs — Westminster and Wandsworth — falling decisively to Labour, and Tory Barnet, equally an early test bed for privatisations and contracting-out, slipping from Conservative control.

London is today more decisively a Labour city, even in the eastern boroughs where Labour has managed to lose the confidence of many Muslim voters; and the outer fringes, where defecting middle-class Tories hide their shame in a vote for an occasionally even more obnoxious Lib Dems.

London is a place where even people who own their own ridiculously overpriced homes are feeling the pinch while the generations who rent see housing security slipping further away.

When people cannot survive on the minimum wage and struggle on an above-average income, the social base of the Tory Party is bound to whither.

It’s a mixed picture everywhere else in England, where Labour’s vote share is down compared with the 2018 results. In northern England only the Greens enjoyed an increase in votes.

The Lib Dems benefited from defecting Tories, so Labour lost Hull and the Greens made gains by harvesting both disgusted Tory votes and in places where Labour has little chance.

The utility of these election results in informing speculation about a general election result is limited by the uncomfortable fact that despite “partygate” and the unpopularity of the Tories — plus the feed-through from the cost-of-living crisis — fewer people were prepared to vote at all and fewer people voted Labour.

It was noticeable that Labour’s ground attack mobilised relatively few of even the remaining activists and was policy-lite to an unprecedented extent. Its social media campaign was torpedoed by a spectacularly badly judged revival of New Labour ephemera.

The second conversation is taking place within Labour.

It is not simply about leadership. Even rightwingers see Sir Keir Starmer as lacking and some see in his weakness an advantage to grandstand, define themselves as the standard bearers of a New Labour revival and make even clearer the party’s retreat from anything resembling an alternative.

Labour’s problem is, of course, the policy vacuum that Starmer has created in abandoning each of the pledges he gave when soliciting votes from Labour’s individual members and trade union affiliates.

A lack of radical policies means a default position for the neoliberal consensus and, right on cue, John Rentoul argues in the Independent that a Labour failure to win a majority offers a prospect for a Lib Dem-Labour alliance. 

Those who worry that such a government scenario means the Lib Dems would veto any radical Labour policies can rest assured that with this present lot leading Labour, there won’t be any.

There is a weak attempt by the Labour right to big up these results by reference to the 2019 general election when disunity, Starmer’s Brexit betrayal and the anti-semitism slander had fatally damaged the party’s election chances.

Labour’s national election co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood MP told the BBC that it was important to remember that these English seats were fought on the 2018 election cycle.

This rather supports Momentum’s analysis that Labour actually went back from Jeremy Corbyn’s 2018 performance and punctures Starmer’s deeply flawed idea that punching left is a vote-winner.

Official Labour strategy seems to be “keep quiet and hope that Tory unpopularity will translate into a Labour-led administration.”

This underestimates Boris Johnson and the Tories but worse, if successful, would lead to a lacklustre Labour administration unable to inspire the electorate.

Experience tells us that inspired leadership and a radical manifesto are the key to advance. It is what Britain needs.

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