Labour must not fall back into its divisive stalemate


This was not a night that should satisfy any of us who want to see a Labour government. While Labour made some gains, there weren’t nearly enough. The energy that was built up during and after the General Election campaign last year seems to have dissipated.  Or worse, to be unable to be transferred to non-national elections. That should concern the party of localism and those who want to see Labour in Town Halls across the country.

Depending on where you sit on the Labour spectrum, there will be two responses to this disappointment:

Those who are anti-Corbyn will say that this is not the performance of a party confidently heading towards government.

Those who are pro-Corbyn will argue that Labour did badly in the local elections in 2017. But that they then went on to massively outperform expectations in the general election just a few weeks later.

They are both right.

But in being so it leaves the Party even more obviously in its stalemate than it was before. Both sides believe their thesis and that the only way to prove it is to test it at the next general election. Potentially to destruction – potentially to victory. Either way it leaves Labour’s forever war no closer to resolution and Labour members from all factions and none, who have worked so hard over the past few weeks and months, bruised and disheartened and listening to all sides pull each other apart.

Equally importantly, it leaves Labour running fewer councils, with a smaller bulwark against the brutal Tory cuts. It leaves Labour less able to make a difference in our communities and less able to innovate to deliver – even under the incredibly tough conditions imposed by the centre – locally focussed solutions, for the problems the people who need us, face.

Why was Labour’s performance disappointing?

We will all have our own pet theories. Likely they will align with whatever it was we thought was going wrong before the elections. And we will have nothing to say about what we thought was going right. Politics is a human business after all and we are all only human.

In order to regain some of the momentum from last year, some may try to oversell these results as a triumph. That would be a mistake. Labour is not over the line nationally, which means there is always more to learn, more to do.

Equally, others will revert to the positions they held before June 2017 and claim that a radical, left-wing Labour party is unelectable. That too would be a mistake. Labour increased their vote share dramatically at the last election. We have something the public have demonstrated they are at least open to. We just need now to work out how to ensure we hone that and what it will take to close the deal.

There will be a lot of jumping to conclusions about what it is the public have told us this week. But the truth is we do not yet know. Nor will there be a single homogenous answer. Some things seem clear. The antisemitism row has hurt Labour in Jewish areas and probably beyond. This must now lead to decisive action. But this cannot be the only response.

We are a divided country, but there is not simply one division. We are left and right, leave and remain, open and closed, metropolitan and not, London and not, Northern and Southern, English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish. These divisions play out in a myriad of ways. We must understand the best way to appeal to the most people in the most seats. We must do so in a world where we know that what we say in Southend will be heard in Strathclyde. What we promise to Bury will be known in Brighton.

What now?

For Labour to fall back even further into petty infighting would be destructive beyond belief. The way to avoid that is not to enforce a ‘Pollyannaish’ approach to this setback nor to adopt a Chicken little “sky is falling attitude”. It is to look forward, sensibly, to what can be done to address our weaknesses and what can be done to emphasise our strengths.

It is incumbent on all of us to recognise that we have both.

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