Next year's local government elections will be critical for the new Labour leaderby Matthew Goodwin / September 14, 2015 / Leave a comment
The electoral challenge that is standing before Jeremy Corbyn is truly daunting. He is now the leader of a party that just attracted the third lowest share of the vote in its history. Only under Michael Foot in 1983, and Gordon Brown in 2010, did Labour attract a lower percentage of the vote. Perhaps, inevitably, many in Labour have traced their heavy defeat to Scotland. Corbyn and his followers have certainly made much of his perceived ability to reconnect with SNP voters by offering an anti-austerity stance. Insurgent voters, however, rarely prefer a copy to the original. And even were Corbyn able to win back around half of the vote that Labour lost to the SNP, which in itself would be a truly remarkable achievement, to stand even a chance of securing a majority in 2020 Labour will still need a 13 point lead over the Conservatives. If Labour still held all of its seats in Scotland it would still be nearly 60 seats behind the Conservatives.
Which brings us to England. One of Labour’s major problems is that it is trying to sell an anti-austerity platform to younger and Scottish voters while simultaneously needing to win over a larger portion of the typically older voters in England who either accept the current economic approach, or actively support it. Miliband and his party failed for several reasons but perhaps the most important was that they did not recognise the extent to which, by 2015, most voters, though anxious about the spending cuts, had come to accept the need for them and associate the government’s strategy with the economic recovery.
Labour’s failure to project economic competence and accept this changed reality was reflected in its dismal performance in England. That many of those who are joining Corbyn are from Labour areas reflects the party’s broader problem. In May, Labour stacked votes where it did not need them and failed to win them where it did. Its biggest advance of 3.8 points came in safe northern Labour seats. In fact, more generally the party added 3.5 points to its average vote share in existing Labour seats. But in southern England it made no progress at all. In marginal Conservative seats Labour remained static, in safe Conservative seats it lost nearly two points, and across all Conservative seats its support dropped by one point. Ukip, meanwhile, enjoyed gains of 14 points across all Conservative seats in the south and almost 17 points in safe Conservative seats.