Last week’s Local Election results concluded without undeniable success for either Labour or the Conservatives, with the number of councils controlled by either party barely changing. A positive result was the almost total collapse of UKIP who lost 123 councillors leaving them with only 3. Surprisingly, it seems the Liberal Democrats have the most to celebrate, gaining control of 9 councils, an improvement on their dismal General Election performance last year.
Labour saw no overall change in the number of councils controlled, but gained 77 councillors in comparison to the Conservatives loss of 33. A win Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was particularly delighted with was taking back control of Plymouth City Council. Corbyn thanked the hard work of Labour activists in the city, while Conservative MP, Johnny Mercer, suggested that their loss was due to the current government’s attitude towards the military and defence.
Another success for Labour was becoming the largest party in Trafford Council. Trafford, a Conservative stronghold for 14 years and the only blue council in Greater Manchester, now has no party in overall control. An affluent area home to the most expensive street in the North, Trafford did not only see an increase in Labour councillors but the Greens gained seats in the town of Altrincham. These Conservative losses are thanks to the work of Labour members in the area but also local disputes caused by a land development plan proposed by a former England footballer.
A disappointment for Labour, and a relief for the Tories, was Labour’s failure to win Wandsworth, an area the party had pinpointed as achievable. Although the fact that Labour did not take the council has been portrayed in a negative light, they did encroach on the Tory majority. The Conservatives lost 8 councillors while Labour won 7, bringing them incredibly close to having no party in overall control.
In light of the shambles that is the current Conservative government it is surprising that Labour did not gain any new councils within the City of London, and that they suffered in the Midlands. A huge relief for the Conservative party was maintaining a majority in Kensington & Chelsea, especially given their shocking behaviour when addressing the devastation caused by the Grenfell Tower fire and their unwillingness to bring about justice. It has almost been a year since the tragedy and of the 209 households who need rehoming only 62 have been placed in permanent accommodation. Kensington & Chelsea Council leader, Elizabeth Campbell, acknowledged the luck the Conservatives had in retaining this area in light of Grenfell, saying “I think we all recognise we still need to rebuild trust.” Hopefully the Labour additions to this council can help bring focus back to what is really important for this community: the Grenfell victims.
The recent Windrush scandal seemed enough to give Labour some hope against the Tories, but instead allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour party appeared to be more impactful. Concern has been stirring since June 2016 with numerous party members being suspended or expelled from the party. Although Corbyn has apologised and acknowledged more needs to be done by the Labour Party to tackle anti-Semitism, the Conservatives utilised these allegations in their local council campaigns.
Barnet, a North West London borough with a Jewish population of 15%, was Labour’s prime London target. Instead of taking the council from no overall control, Labour lost 5 councillors across the borough, giving the Tories a majority. As Barnet’s Labour leader, Barry Rawlings, writes in The Guardian, it was entirely possible that if anti-Semitism had been adequately addressed in the last two years, there would currently be a Labour council in Barnet. Evidently it is not enough to simply point out the racism or hate in other parties, if it was Windrush would have had more of an impact on the results. Instead Labour need to seriously address the concerns within their own party before trying to throw stones.
The Tory government has not been doing well. Their reluctance to bring justice for Grenfell, the shameful Windrush scandal and the total disarray that is Brexit are just a few examples of their disarray. Local elections typically experience a lower turnout of voters than General Elections, but have the potential to make important changes in local areas, particularly when councils are suffering under austerity with cuts to community services.
But last week’s elections should not be seen as an outright success for either of the major parties. Labour had a chance to exploit the poor performance of the government and did not execute this. The results, however, do indicate that a projection of this trend onto the next general election would leave Labour the largest party, but still result in a hung Parliament. This time round the remarkable changes were for the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, and instead a sigh of relief for the Tories and a moment of motivation for Corbyn and the Labour Party.
Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Images.