Why Labour needs a simple message

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Jeremy Corbyn: Labour leader. Pic credit: Labour List

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Unless you live in Telford yesterday’s election results and latest polls for Labour were dire.

The council result in Telford was the one bright spark where Labour took a seat from the Conservatives with a 20 per cent increase in vote share. It is particularly significant because it is a marginal Tory Parliamentary seat won from Labour in 2015 by a right wing libertarian and pretty offensive Mp, Lucy Allan. A local blogger, Telford resident aka Neil Phillips, has blogged about her offensive tweeting.

The person defeated was her press officer and interestingly the Lib Dems and Greens did not stand. Also according to a local party tweeter,Andy Hicks, the Labour council financed a pretty formidable campaign against local NHS cuts so Labour was seen on the side of local residents..

But apart from a holding a  council seat in a ward dominated by Lancaster University the results were appalling for Labour. They were fourth in the Sleaford by-election behind the Liberal Democrats and UKIP and their poll standing dropped to a new low of 25 per cent. An experiment in another council by election in Tonbridge and Malling – where the Lib Dems and Greens consciously stood down so Labour had a clear run bombed. The Tories romped home and the Labour vote barely moved up. Disaster.

So what is going wrong. First the huge row over Corbyn’s leadership which split the Parliamentary Party has been no good for the party or the voters. Divided parties are doomed. The good news is that Corbyn’s decision to bring back  old hand Nick Brown as chief whip has brought some real strategy and discipline to the Parliamentary party. This was shown by the way Labour pushed the government into having to say something about their Brexit strategy last week. But so far this has not yet resonated with the electorate that the row is over..

Second the party has a lot to say – and this is shown in increased support in council by elections in their heartlands – for the poor. But the problem for Labour is not everyone is poor although one wonders under present government policy  how many more people will end up being poor by 2020.

Third Labour’s Brexit position is a mess. The Lib Dems have a simple message – vote Lib, stay remain – and UKIP have – vote for us and we get out now, no if’s or but’s. Labour, rather like the government, is somewhere in the middle – we have to leave but we’re not sure how we are going to do it.

Fourth, Labour has a good strong message on the NHS but has no other strong message on  jobs or Britain’s future. It has a very good point in defending employment rights – but it needs to ram this home in much simpler terms so its core vote sees what it means..

No one in Labour has spelt out in simple terms what sort of society it wants – and what it means for people.

But all is not lost. Paul Nuttall has still to convince me that he is going to replace Labour. His party’s vote is at best flat lining or in worse case scenario losing council seats to the Tories and the Lib Dems. Labour is not being challenged in its heartlands by UKIP – it is the Lib Dems that are  starting to sneak back in the metropolitan cities. And I am afraid I thought their progress in the Sleaford by-election in Lincolnshire – where UKIP had previously  found fertile ground- was pathetic. Their share went down when it should have gone up or they should have able to repeat the Lib Dems shock victory in Richmond Park. They didn’t. This leaves Labour a lot to play for -if only it can get its act together.

Labour’s best council by election result night since the General Election

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Victorious Scottish Labour candidate Alex McVey with friends at Coatbridge this morning

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On the eve of the Labour Party conference there is a rare fillip for the divided party .Voters turned out in sufficient numbers to elect councillors in the Midlands, North West and Scotland for the party to gain seats.

The night was not promising for Labour -particularly after spectacular defeats in council by-elections in Sheffield and  Cardiff.

Nine seats were up for grabs – 7 in England and one each in Scotland and Wales and Labour only held one in their heartland in  Gateshead. The Tories held six with the SNP and an independent holding the other seats.

By the end of the night the Tories had lost four of its seats – two to Labour and two to the Liberal Democrats. The SNP lost their seat to Labour and Plaid Cymru took  a seat from Independents.

The result in Scotland was particularly interesting as this is Labour’s second gain from the SNP in a month. The North Lanarkshire council gain at Coatbridge was hailed as “a surprise win” by the Daily Record.  It followed a Labour gain last month in North Ayrshire where Labour beat Nicola Sturgeon’s dad, Robin, to come from behind to win. In both cases it has to be said that the Labour vote fell and the SNP vote went up compared to results in 2012.

In North Lanarkshire  Labour were ahead in first preference votes. In North Ayrshire they were behind the SNP. But in both cases the STV system helped Labour gain the seats. What appears to be happening is that more people voting for opponents of SNP end up switching eventually to Labour ( even Tories in these cases) rather than helping the SNP hold the seat.

In England Labour secured two spectacular gains. In the Lake District they won a seat in Cockermouth with a 5 per cent increase in a solid Tory ward in the town. They were helped by the collapse of the Tory vote and a big 20 per cent rise in support for the Liberal Democrats which pushed the Tories into third place.

In North Warwickshire – a marginal Parliamentary seat which the Tories did particularly well in the General Election – Labour stormed to victory in a straight fight with the Tories.

They won despite a Tory campaign lambasting Labour over local issues. The Tory Party told the electorate.”There will be a clear choice at this by-election; a responsible Conservative councillor who will ensure that the residents of Arley & Whitacre ward get the best deal possible and that their voice is heard, or a Labour councillor who will fail to stand up for local people”

Interestingly UKIP which had done well in this area couldn’t field a candidate and neither did the Liberal Democrats or Greens. Result was a staggering 33.7 per cent increase in Labour share . As @britainelects tweeted:Arley & Whitacre (North Warwickshire) result: LAB: 59.7% (+33.7) CON: 40.3% (+1.7) Greens and UKIP didn’t stand this time round.

This was in area where 60 per cent of the people voted for Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats did well in Devon with a 28 per cent rise in the share of the vote to take Teignmouth from the Tories. They also won a seat from the Tories  in Suffolk  with a 12 per cent share of the vote. The Labour share of the vote in this Tory seat also went up by 5.8 per cent. The Lib Dem performance  is part of a pattern in many Tory and now some Labour seats which has meant the party has made 17 council seat gains since the General Election.

The Tories held two of their safe seats  with an 8.5 per cent vote share  increase in Adderbury near Banbury and they easily saw off a UKIP challenge in Stony Stratford, South Northants – taking over 77 per cent of the vote.

Whatever is said nationally UKIP continue to do badly. In the Labour heartland of  Gateshead where they were a distant challenger they got a mere 1.3 pc more of the vote while Labour declined by 3.7 per cent. Here again the Lib Dems did better. In other places UKIP got a derisory share of the vote – for example coming bottom in Coatbridge with just 63 votes compared to over 1350 for the winner.

My prediction is that on present performance  in council areas it is the Liberal Democrats rather than UKIP that are re-emerging as the challenger to the Tories in the rural shires and Labour in the cities. And all is not lost for Labour on this performance  provided they unite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberal Democrats: On the rise again in the shires?

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Lib Dem poster Pic credit: http://www.geraldvernonjackson.org.uk/

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Almost without any comment  there appears to  be quite a  Liberal Democrat transformation in voting patterns outside the big cities in the latest rounds of council by-elections

The meltdown in the 2015 general election  left the Liberal Democrats with just eight seats in Parliament.The party seemed incapable of recovering from the damage it suffered from the electorate by going into a coalition with the Tories.

Indeed last year’s council by-elections saw the Lib Dems losing more ground to the Tories in places like Woking and Brentwood. The party made a little progress in the May local elections gaining 45 seats and control of one council, Watford.

Yet since the Brexit vote the Liberal Democrats – unscathed by any party infighting – have made  no fewer than six gains – two in Cornwall and one each in Wiltshire, Surrey, Norfolk and Northampton. I have written about this in Tribune  this week.

The interesting thing is not just the gains but the huge leap in vote share by the Liberal Democrats.

The latest result in Northampton – which came in after Tribune went to press- saw in Westone the Lib Dem share up 36.4 per cent and the Tory share down 28.8 per cent. A very useful website Vote UK Forum  records that in this ward the Lib Dems – despite a low poll – garnered 268 more votes  than in the general election.

The only other factor appears to be that the Liberal Democrat had stood for a nearby area some time ago and there was some resentment that the Tory lived in a village and not in the town.

The party – like Labour – is being helped by the decline in support for the now leaderless UKIP since the referendum. UKIP appears to be both declining and having difficulty in putting up council candidates.
The Lib Dem gain from UKIP in Cornwall was caused by UKIP not putting up a candidate in a seat they already held. As a result the Lib Dem candidate won the Newquay seat with a 57 per cent share of the vote. Conservative and Labour shares were down.
Lib Dems did well defeating another independent in Cornwall and one in Trowbridge, Wiltshire where the party got 45 per cent share of the vote. In North Norfolk they roundly defeated the Tory candidate in a seat which the Lib Dems had not contested at the last council election.

The interesting point is this is not being repeated where the Liberal Democrats are fighting Labour in metropolitan areas.Apart from a modest rise in one Islington seat won convincingly by Labour and a near miss in Southwark the party is performing dismally.

Indeed the challenge to Labour -if any- has come from the Greens who nearly won a seat in the London borough of Lambeth and ate into the Labour vote in both Luton and the London borough of Newham.

This would suggest that the “Corbyn” factor has not damaged Labour in its strongholds – indeed often the opposite with the Labour share increasing. And the Voter UK website also points that the revitalised local Labour Party are by far the best in getting their local vote out – up 10 per cent on average this year. But the Tories are holding off challenges from Labour in Tory marginals.