Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The route to Downing Street?

Last night it looked like Labour was on course for big gains, especially in London. But with the dust clearing, Corbyn’s strategy is exposed, writes Richard Angell

With only Plymouth gained from the Conservatives and losses in councils that were up for grabs – like Derby and Redditch – the result is heart-breaking for many of our brilliant candidates, as well as the passionate activists out on the doorstep.

Now, whole communities will go without Labour councils who are their only protection from the worst of Tory austerity. Where Labour runs the council, council tax is lower and services are invariably better. Never forget it.

It is for these activists – activists from every wing of Labour – that the result is emotionally devastating. Given Labour has such a small number of target councils, and such a large number of committed activists, it is clear the challenge going forward is ensuring we have policy positions that consolidate our progressive base, and are attractive to voters who may not be part of our traditional core vote. This was once called, ‘appealing to the centreground’ – I am not sure why it ever when out of fashion.

Despite the best efforts of Labour members across the country, Labour has only won Plymouth council. In Barnet, where we were we needed just one gain to take control of the council, the Tories have an undeserving spring back in their step. At last month’s #EnoughIsEnough Jewish community rally in Parliament Square Wes Streeting said ‘Fighting racism and antisemitism will not cost us votes, failure to fight racism and antisemitism will’. He has been proved right. But before people tell you that is was ‘just Jews’ in Barnet and Bury that punished Labour, remember this: Barnet and Bury might have the most Jewish voters in London and the north west but they are not mostly Jewish places. That means the friends and neighbours of Jewish people were appalled by Labour’s antisemitism problem in a way many in Labour are still not.

It seems where Labour and the Tories were slogging it out ‘Remain’ voters sided with Labour stop a hard Brexit. However, in Labour-dominated areas it appears that Remain voters have sent the Labour leadership a message via the more Brexit-sceptic smaller parties – the Green party and the Liberal Democrats.

In areas such as Wandsworth, which did not meet expectations but where we still made gains, we performed nowhere near well enough to ensure general election success – Labour would lose Battersea and fail to gain Putney on the numbers we saw last night. This disappointing performance is even more evident outside London, with Labour failing to make gains in traditional marginals, as well as a distinct failure to capitalise on the collapse of the United Kingdom Independent party vote. Nuneaton in 2015 was the surefire sign that Ed Miliband’s move to the left had failed to win for Labour. Whether the gains for the Tories in Nuneaton last night are the sign that Jeremy Corbyn’s move further left will do the same will be revealed whenever the next election is called.

Going into the 2017 general election, the only strategy was stop the bleeding and show Corbyn at his campaigning best. It worked – and it beat expectations.

The post-rationalisation means there is now a strategy – win more seats like Kensington and Canterbury. As my colleague Conor Pope writes on LabourList today, ‘the success of the current Labour party rests on a major realignment of politics that puts formerly out-of-reach areas into play to make up for losses in Labour heartlands like Mansfield and Copeland.’

The route for Corbyn to get into Downing Street goes through Chingford and Woodford Green, East Worthing and Shoreham, both Milton Keynes North and South, Putney, and Wimbledon. All places where we failed to win the popular vote last night. As Pope argues, ‘going backwards in places like Derby and Nuneaton can only be cancelled out by truly incredible breakthroughs in places like Westminster and Wandsworth – let alone Barnet, which everyone agrees was always a realistic target.’ They contain important new margins: Chipping Barnet; Cities and Westminster; Finchley and Golders Green; Hendon; and Putney. ‘That’, he insists, ‘is why expectations are high: they have to be for any of this to work.’

Reaction to the latest BBC projection indicates that the well meaning #Unseat strategy is strikingly similar to Ed Miliband’s 35 per cent strategy. The difference is that we now have two-party politics, and the result is that neither looks capable of of getting over the line to govern comfortably. Is it a plan for a majority?

To be fair to Miliband, his 35 per cent strategy served him well in the midterms, especially while the Tories were an omnishambles. Theresa May appeared disinterested in the local election campaign, there was no Tory message, no learning from the general election, a cabinet resignation, the Windrush scandal and the NHS crisis on the watch of the longest serving health secretary. But last night everything was in our favour and our performance is best described by John Curtice as ‘treading water’.

Labour should obviously be doing more to keep Britain in the single market and much more to expel antisemitism from our movement once and for all. But this is just getting the basics right. The question now is, is the Corbyn strategy destined to fall short?

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell

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Photo: Secretinlondon123 licensed under creative commons

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Richard Angell

is director of Progress

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