The mainstream media has been universally hostile in reporting Labour’s performance in council by elections. The results either go unreported or they report only Labour defeats. Or they ridicule Corbyn when he chose to mention a Labour gain from UKIP on Ramsgate Town Council ( admittedly he could have cited better examples including gains in Staffordshire and Essex on bigger councils).
So how exactly are Labour doing. Remember one has to take local council by elections with a degree of scepticism. The polls are lower and local factors play a part which can distort the result. Nevertheless these are not opinion polls – they are results from people actually bothering to go out and vote. They also tell you something about the state of party organisation whatever is happening at national level..
I am drawing my conclusions from two websites – http://election-data.co.uk/ – written by Andrew Teale which provides pen portraits of forthcoming by-elections and Vote UK Forum –which produces detailed results and analysis along with the Twitterfeed @britainelects.
Since the referendum.there have been a rash of by elections across the country. Contrary to what little appears in the press Labour have not done badly. They have recently in rural areas been outclassed by the Liberal Democrats who are winning seats from the Tories, Independents and UKIP with double digit increases in the share of their vote. But most of these seats are not natural Labour territory.And where the Liberal Democrats challenge Labour they make little progress.
So what is really happening? Critics of Corbyn say all Labour is doing is building massive majorities in areas they already hold.
There is evidence for this in a spate of by election results in places like the London boroughs of Haringey, Hackney, Newham, Manchester where Labour have easily held seats-sometimes with an increased majority.
An example last Thursday in Sussex was the East Brighton ward which covers Kemptown and a working class estate called Whitehawk – a traditional safe Labour seat. Labour’s share of the vote went up by over 11 per cent to 57.5 per cent. They had a strong candidate in Lloyd Russell-Moyle who fought Lewes at the last general election and is a consultant for the United Nations on children and young people. But this is a ward they would not be expected to lose.
But what in other areas where they need to win. In Staffordshire they have taken two seats recently-including one last Thursday with a 19.5 per cent increase in the share of the vote- from UKIP. The seats they are taking back were originally won way back in 2003 before UKIP achieved such prominence.and guess what- UKIP in Staffordshire is a mess. They are split with some resigning the UKIP whip and becoming Independents. A warning to Labour not to do the same.
The other interesting result was in South East Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is solid Tory territory since 2000 yet a 18 year old Labour candidate Patrick Wilkinson, managed an increase of 7.9 per cent share of the vote to run the Tory close – cutting the majority. He has been a member of the party for two years and an avid supporter of Corbyn. If the Tory share had not increased by.3.6 per cent it would have been a very close run result. Interestingly UKIP who were second last time saw a big drop in their share.
Yet an error by a young enthusiastic candidate in Totnes, Devon, who hadn’t been a member of the Labour Party long enough to stand for the council, cost the party its only seat on South Hams council in Devon when she had to stand as an independent and gifted the seat to the Liberal Democrats.
Labour is still losing ground to UKIP in Kent, with a working class area of Ashford, Beaver, resulting in a UKIP gain. But UKIP in general are doing badly in almost every seat they stand – and this result seems different to most.other parts of the country.
The jury is still out on whether a Labour party led by Corbyn can succeed or just pile up votes in Labour strongholds.For those voting in the leadership re-election it will have to be a gut reaction – either stick with Corbyn and see whether his approach eventually succeeds against a right wing Tory government. Or go for Smith and return to a more consensual politics but risk losing these new energetic members who can galvanise people to vote.
But what is clear is that a divided Labour Party will eventually fail – luckily at the moment the rows in Westminster are not showing up in local town halls.