The party's local election challenge couldn't be greaterby Peter Kellner / April 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Jeremy Corbyn has more at stake in the May elections than any other party leader. In contrast, David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage are much more focussed on June’s European Union referendum. As for Tim Farron, whose Lib Dem party is still on sabbatical, the real recovery will have to wait. So what can Labour expect from London, Scotland, Wales and the English local elections? And what should it expect?
The first question is easy. Sadiq Khan is likely to be elected London’s mayor. Labour will trumpet this as evidence that Corbyn’s leadership appeals to voters. Labour will brush off a terrible result in Scotland as a repeat of last year’s general election, and not Corbyn’s fault. Labour will slip back in Wales, and blame Ukip.
As for England’s local elections, a consensus is emerging that Labour will lose around 150 council seats. This is the projection of Britain’s two leading local election experts, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, based on local by-election results since Corbyn became leader. Greg Cook, the Labour Party’s respected chief number-cruncher, has warned his colleagues to expect losses of 150-200 seats. Allowing for boundary changes, which slightly reduce the total number of seats being fought, this implies Labour holding around 1,100-1,500 seats.
Suppose Labour does slightly better and retains 1,200-1,250 council seats. Corbyn and his allies will claim this as a good result, but we should not be fooled. Any net losses would be a disaster. The only era in which the opposition lost ground in local elections was the 1980s—in 1982, under Michael Foot and 1985 under Neil Kinnock. The Conservatives went on to retain power in the subsequent general elections with 100-plus majorities.
A better way to view the results will be to look at the Britain-wide vote shares that the BBC and Rallings and Thrasher will project from the local election results. The last time these seats were contested was 2012. Those elections produced the equivalent of a seven point…