Local election results 2017 – we need to change tack

With Labour struggling to make gains, how can we actually win this thing? E M Johns has some ideas.

The initial results of the local government elections show a swing to the Tories.

But these were always going to be a tricky round of elections, including the County Councils in England, the majority of which are true Blue. Labour’s losses in Wales have been disappointing, although, as Professor John Curtice points out, the party’s loss of dominance in our traditional stronghold of the Welsh valleys goes back a number of years. Despite that Labour has held onto most of its urban centres, and losses in some areas went to independents campaigning on issues around local council cuts. Hardly a ringing endorsement of Tory policy.

The ongoing Tory bounce has been helped by the complete collapse of the UKIP vote in the aftermath of the government’s embrace of a hard Brexit. It is the popularity of the Tories rather than the unpopularity of Labour which is most responsible for these results. That staple figure of British politics, the working class Tory, who has long been absent from the active political scene through apathy or an unwillingness to give support to a toxic Tory ‘brand’, is back with a vengeance. They have returned home to the Conservative Party through support for UKIP and Brexit.

What does this mean for us?

Our own ‘core vote’ is, I suspect, stronger than people often fear. Yes, people in working class areas are voting Tory, but this is not the same as ‘traditional Labour voters’ abandoning us for the enemy. Of course, the way Corbyn is portrayed as unpatriotic, his position on Trident, and so on, all make it easier for the Tory press to mobilise these voters, but that is only part of the story. It is a latent Tory vote in these areas that has always existed, and is galvanised by the current political situation.

It means that an electoral strategy based simply on ‘getting out the vote’ will not win an election – there is simply not enough of ‘our vote’ to ‘get out’ at the moment for there to be a viable path to power by doing only that.

It means we must redouble our efforts to persuade and convince. It means not passing by the house marked down as having voted Tory two years ago because they are somehow a lost cause. If we are not prepared and able to change minds, we will lose. If we approach the electorate with a good grasp of our ideas and clear, sharp ways of explaining them, we can win.

It means we must continue to chip away at the prevailing mood of nationalism and xenophobia, because these are, as they have ever been, the conditions in which a Tory vote thrives and firms up. There is no clever-clever accommodation to this political mood which can somehow benefit the Labour Party.

It means, too, that the party must urgently develop a national strategy for our local government representatives. Labour councils at the moment are put upon, in incredibly difficult circumstances. But many are barely even ‘dented shields‘. It is unlikely that councils which are seen as commissioning bodies for private interests, or a transmission belt for central government cuts, will inspire much support, either among ‘our’ people or the wider public.

All these things are doable if the political will is there among the Labour Party’s mass membership, and if we can fight for a Labour Party which is capable of democratically expressing this will. The hard work of doorknocking over the next month for the general election must be imbued with the spirit of the new society we are trying to build, a vision of the future which can provide solutions to people’s questions and insecurities in the present.

For many of us, this will be the fight of our political lives so far – we have a duty to give it everything we have. Politics is febrile. Victory is possible, but can only be realised through our will and our action.

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