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THREAD: Local elections. I often talk about the need for nuance in politics - and political analysis. This thread will be full of it... because these are very mixed results indeed, for all the major parties. Not disastrous for anyone; not great for anyone either.
First up, the Tories. Even the media have shifted somewhat from their "equal kicking for both main parties" hot take last night - because in anyone's language, to lose well over 1300 councillors is pretty calamitous.
That is indeed an almighty kicking - of a government which has ceased to govern, and a party which is loathed throughout the country. That party is dying, bit by bit - because without its reputation for competence, what does it have? Nothing.
And yet, however odd this might sound, these results were nowhere near as bad for the Tories as they might have been. On two grounds. First, as the 2015 local elections were on the same day as the GE, they fought this year's contest BOUND to lose massive numbers of councillors.
When any party is in government, it loses mid-term elections galore. The question is only ever "how badly has it lost?" In turn, those defeats steadily erode its grassroots position: with what happened to the Lib Dems between 2010 and 2015 laying the ground for their GE wipeout.
Yet in the Tories' case, they entered these elections from a position of unnatural strength: 35% in the 2015 locals, when they can be expected to score under 30% in most circumstances. Which brings me to point two: they haven't even lost these elections.
The share of the vote? It's tied at CON 28, LAB 28. That should trouble both parties... but Labour more so. Quite a lot more, in fact. Because Labour entered these elections from that same 2015 base: a bad base, in other words. Which has now been eroded even more.
29% in 2015 is 28% now. 66 councils in 2015 is 60 now: a net loss of six councils is an awful outcome. As is a net loss of councillors too. These are bad and depressing results for Labour; there's no getting away from that.
Where's the nuance in their case? There's plenty. Because these are the most abnormal times I can ever recall in UK politics. Standard 'rules' about opposition parties needing to lead by double figures at this stage to form the next government are, well, no longer rules at all.
Labour, of course, did horrendously badly in the 2017 local elections - then astonishingly well only a month later, defying all historical precedent. That historical precedent is close to useless now... because British politics have never been in this kind of flux before.
Anything can happen - and in electoral terms, it happens fast. With Labour going from dead and buried early in 2017 to forcing a hung Parliament and taking the lead in the polls... only to fall back again. And with a 40-40 tie in most polls suddenly giving way to 28-28 now.
What I think we're watching is the steady, inexorable collapse of the British political system; perhaps even what we've always known as the party system too. Neither the Tories nor Labour seem able to maintain their disparate coalitions; both parties have been split asunder.
As Labour supporters (and Corbyn supporters), we can all fulminate at trouble-making MPs until the cows come home. But there's more to all this than that. Centrifugal forces cannot be resisted. Neither major party represents the mass of public opinion remotely enough.
Thus have we seen the formation of two new parties. Thus, too, have the Tories lost huge amounts of moderate supporters to the Lib Dems; while Labour leavers sat on their hands or, in some cases, may well have voted Lib Dem too. Confused by that? It's not THAT weird.
For many years, the Lib Dems picked up support from both left and right: especially at local and by-elections. Because they were a protest party; the None of the Above party. When they went into government, they didn't just lose support to Labour... but to UKIP too.
The mistake is to assume that almost everyone vote according to political ideology. Especially at local elections, they often don't. Brexit itself was much more a vote against the political establishment than against the EU; last night was another chance to stick two fingers up.
And suddenly, the Lib Dems found themselves back in their customary pre-2010 role: swallowing up votes galore from so many infuriated by a) Labour not stopping Brexit or b) The Tories not getting Brexit through or c) No Deal not having happened or d) No Deal still being possible.
Whether they do as well at the EU elections - when both the Brexit Party and Change UK will be on the ballot too - must be doubtful. And even as it is, however much the Lib Dems winning in places like Sunderland is remarkable, they still only picked up 19% of the vote overall.
And 19% is, to be frank, nothing much. To put it into perspective: in 2003, they got 30%. In 2007, under Ming Campbell's abject leadership, they got 26%. And having lost 950 councillors combined in 2011 and 2015, their gain of 700 means they're well below pre-2011 levels.
All it means is, after almost a decade of scraping the barrel in terms of public opinion, they're back in the race again. Nothing more than that. But even that bare minimum is dangerous, very dangerous, for Labour: for reasons I'll come to in a moment.
Overall, is the *direction of travel* of these results towards Remain? Yes it is. Many will look at that, think about the close 52-48 referendum outcome, and think "it's obvious! We must Remain and Labour must do everything it can to ensure we do!" But sorry: nope.
For one thing, as so often. the turnout was low. Not mindbogglingly low - but far, far too low to extrapolate a broad sense of where the UK public is right now. Some of them didn't vote out of exasperation; many, many others never vote at local elections in any circumstances.
For another: making almost as many net gains as the Lib Dems have been independents. That's a huge story, liable to be completely overlooked. Of course, not all independents are pro-Brexit... but very many are. Expect to see their vote cross over to the Brexit Party on May 23.
A vote which has come from both Tory and Labour: naturally so, given both are being held responsible by hardcore Brexiteers for Parliament's continued stasis. They'll be out in force 20 days from now; will Remainers match them?
It's THAT election which will tell us far, far more on what to do about Brexit. The local elections are more complicated - with none of the main parties having done that well, and two of them having done very badly.
Again and again, on Twitter, in the media, amongst Labour MPs too, we see the demand for Labour to support Remain and back a 2nd referendum. "It's so obvious", cry their supporters; "Corbyn has sold us all out and he's useless!" Sorry folks: it's not remotely that simple.
Is there a majority among the public to Remain.... or just get Brexit over and done with so we can all move on at last? Would a 2nd referendum be likely to heal these appalling divisions, or provoke so much anger that it'll make them much worse... even, irreparable?
How sizeable is the minority of Brexiteers whose anger would boil over into something horrible and dangerous? How many Remainers have been so appalled at the apparently 'undemocratic' failure to implement Brexit that they'd now vote Leave?
How angry will Remainers be if Brexit does go ahead - and will they ever forgive Labour if it does? What would a 2nd referendum question even be? All these questions, and many others besides, remain completely unanswered. Because the truth is: no-one knows.
And it's precisely because no-one knows that the certainty of Remainers who insist Labour is writing its own suicide note, or Leavers who insist it's all Project Fear and accuse MPs of being 'traitors' is so thoroughly objectionable. It's not based on objective reasoning at all.
On the left, Remainers will point to the Lib Dems' gains and Labour's poor performance and say "see, it's obvious!" All the while Labour leavers point to the rise of independents and shellackings dished out in the north and midlands and say "see, it's obvious!" But it's not.
And it's because it's not - because Brexit crosses over party divides like little else ever has, and that to form a government, Labour somehow have to keep both Leavers and Remainers on side - that it's all proven so complicated. Horrendously so.
My sympathies remain with Corbyn and his team over that. I've always understood why Labour has taken this approach, despite being a Remainer myself. But I expect Labour to scrutinise these results carefully - and be prepared to shift if the EU elections tell a pro-Remain story.
Finally, there are two other things for Corbyn himself to consider. Personally, I don't think there's anything he can do to stop damaging leaks from those so inclined; to stop those desperate to bring him down from continuing to play quite appalling games.
But no question: he is absolutely not as effective a leader now as he was in 2017. Something's been missing for quite some time now. He needs to re-find it. Or to put it another way: he has to stop hammering home the same old messages and get plenty of new ones.
Obviously, Labour won't want to give away anything that's planned for their next GE manifesto (not least because the Tories tend to copy it). But to be the distinctive, radical alternative Britain needs, it has to provide distinctive, radical messages: which excite and inspire.
It did this extraordinarily well two years ago. It has to redouble its efforts now - because the message isn't getting through at all. That has a lot to do with both a corrupt media and self-serving MPs... but it's to do with Corbyn's leadership too. Communication must get better
The second point is more fundamental and longer term - but it worries me considerably. Because of FPTP, a third party always being on 15-20% or so was what prevented a left wing Labour Party from having any chance of governing after the split on the left in 1981.
Similarly, the very thing which enabled Labour to achieve 40% of the vote in 2017 was the collapse of the Lib Dems. But reports of their death have been exaggerated; finally, they're recovering. And that's very bad news in terms of electoral maths.
I know many would be fine with a minority Labour government: the number 1 priority is getting the Tories out, after all. But for Labour to change and transform Britain, it needs a majority. It needs more than one term as well.
Given it's still way off the pace in Scotland under a pathetically ineffective leader, it's hard enough to win a majority as it is. The Lib Dem revival means they're now squeezed from the Remain side on both sides of the border. And that spells trouble, big trouble.
You know what I saw in 2017? For the first time in my life, I saw almost the entire British left unite: behind a social democratic, socially liberal, inclusive message. Too many of those who voted Labour in 2017 because of fundamental shared values have been alienated since.
That's why I think Labour need to look very seriously at its position on Brexit. I get that its complicated; I don't underestimate the anger in any way; I worry, hugely, about the divisions across Britain. But Labour cannot afford to lose so many of its natural supporters.
The picture is very far from complete; even the EU elections won't give us the total story. But yesterday's vote, as well as being appalling for the Tories, was a major shot across Labour's bows. What it's doing right now isn't working. It has to reflect very seriously on that.
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