Rishi Sunak. Photo: No 10 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | Keir Starmer. Photo: Keir Starmer / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Rishi Sunak. Photo: No 10 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | Keir Starmer. Photo: Keir Starmer / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Michael Lavalette breaks down the local and mayoral election results, and shows that there is an opening for independent, pro-Palestine candidates on the left

Last Thursday’s election results saw a Tory meltdown across England. Their disastrous showing was their worst local government election results in over forty years.

Millions of people took part in a range of elections for council seats, police commissioners, mayoral elections and a parliamentary by-election in Blackpool South. They were the biggest electoral test for the parties this side of the general election.

The results, uniformly, were a disaster for Sunak’s Tories. There were no ‘shafts of light’ onto which they could hold. If these results were to roll forward to the general election, they would be swept out of office, and good riddance to them.

It is likely that there will now be increased squabbling and in-fighting in Tory ranks. The odious Suella Braverman has already been out doing the TV rounds demanding that Sunak ‘owns’ the dreadful results. It is clear that she is set to make her case to be a future Tory leader. Andrea Leadsom started the ‘bring back Boris’ campaign, suggesting he is the Tories’ only hope. For others, their only hope will be to go for even more extreme policies on refugees and people on benefits. The nasty party is getting more vicious as it tries to hold on to the last remnants of power.

No doubt the pressure to move further right will be augmented by a look at Reform’s performance. Reform didn’t do nearly as well as they expected. It seems clear they took votes from right-wing Tories and not from traditional Labour voters. This will surely lead some in the Tory party to chase their vote, but an even more extreme, nasty and vicious Tory party seems even less likely to attract voters.

Whatever way they go, they are on track to slip below 30% of the popular vote and that represents a wipe out! No doubt, over the next few days, the arguments in the Tory camp will deepen. Let’s hope they tear each other apart.

Not all good news for Labour

If it was a disaster for the Tories, it must have been a good day for Labour, right? Well, perhaps things aren’t quite as simple.

Labour convincingly won the Blackpool South by-election. It would have been a disaster if they hadn’t. This was a safe Labour seat from 1997 until they lost it in 2019. If they were to have any chance of winning the general election, then Blackpool, one of the poorest constituencies in Britain, had to go to Labour, and it was no surprise that it did.

There were definite anxieties in Labour’s camp on Friday when Laura Kuenssberg tweeted her ‘inside information’. Kuenssberg was busy suggesting that Labour had lost the London mayoralty and had failed to take the West Midlands. Both predictions were hopelessly off course. Khan retained London and Parker took the West Midlands. Further, Steve Rotherham (Liverpool City Region), Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) and Tracy Brabin (West Yorks) retained their seats. In all there were eleven Mayoral contests, Labour won ten, the Tories one. Perhaps Kuenssberg should have a little more distance from Tory Central Office, rather than tweeting out their best wished-for outcome.

However, beneath the surface, things are a little more complicated. The turnouts were somewhere between low and abysmal. London saw 40% voter turnout, next came Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire with 32% and then voter turnout tumbles to 25% in Salford and 23% in Liverpool City.

Further, some independents got reasonable votes. Jamie Driscoll in the North East came second with just over 126,000 votes, a good solid vote (though as the sitting mayor, many hoped he could win).

Perhaps the most interesting results were in the local elections. Again in terms of straight numbers, Labour were the victors gaining over 900 seats. The Tories were heavy losers. But these elections were happening four years after good Tory results as a consequence of the ‘vaccination bounce’. Labour did well, but not nearly as well as they would have expected. Labour’s actual percentage vote seems pretty static (and nowhere near its 2017 General Election level).

In fact Sky news suggested that, on the basis of votes cast, Labour would be the largest party in the next parliament, but wouldn’t have an overall majority. If that does come to fruition, it would be a startling defeat for Starmer. The Tories are so hopeless and so despised that Labour should be walking the next election. The fact that a majority is not guaranteed is indicative of the fact that Labour is picking up anti-Tory votes, but people are very far from enthused by the prospect of a Starmer Government.

The left alternatives

Across the country at the local elections, there are two things of interest. First, turnout was poor (even by local government voting standards) and second, where there were alternatives, they got good votes and, in some places remarkable, winning votes. The Greens polled well. They are now the biggest party on Bristol council and they took seats in traditional Labour strongholds like Manchester and Newcastle. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the Green’s trajectory. The party is increasingly divided on left-right grounds. Their electoral gains are likely to feed those proposing a rightward, electoralist strategy over broader engagement in social-movement activities.

The Workers Party had great hopes for a significant break-through in these elections. They had hoped to ‘wipe Labour from Rochdale’, but ended up with two councillors (though both had significant majorities). Their return of four councillors falls significantly below their expectations.

There were some spectacular results for independent candidates, especially ‘left independents ‘.  In Blackburn, a group of councillors who left Labour over Gaza stood and were all re-elected. On Friday, they put out a poster of the map of Blackburn with a Palestine flag in each constituency that they had won, and declared their area ‘the free Palestinian enclave in Blackburn’! In Rochdale, Oldham, and other towns and cities across significant parts of the North West and Midlands, alternative voices gained good votes and some seats.

There is clearly a huge disconnect between voters and the main political parties, who are all promising nothing but the same old, same old. A poll in the Guardian last week made the point that Labour is leading in the polls, but all the evidence is that they do so simply because they aren’t the Tories! There is no evidence of voter enthusiasm for Starmer’s Labour and, on key voter issues (from Gaza to the NHS), Labour’s position is well to the right of popular opinion. It would seem that, where there were candidates, rooted in communities, able to express their horror at the events taking place in Gaza and combine it with a programme of addressing people’s needs, significant groups of voters came over to them.

As we approach the general election, Thursday’s voting suggests that the main parties are all failing to enthuse voters with a programme for change; Labour are winning because, well, they aren’t the Tories. And good, rooted local candidates that are actively opposed to the genocide in Gaza and are clear about the need to fight against the decades of austerity, growing inequality and destruction of our services, can gain a hearing and garner good votes. There is a lot to fight for.

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