Labour had a terrible night in the local elections, and the signs are undeniably worrying. These are depressing times for those on the left of politics, not just in the UK but across Europe.
We can at least take satisfaction in the fact that UKIP seems to be a spent force and now only have one councillor seat (down from 150), but fearful that this is only because their vote was haemorrhaged to a Conservative Party who have more than flirted with UKIP’s venomous sentiments.
However, we do have to be careful not to overestimate the significance of these local elections in the run-up to a general election, we must not lose hope and must stay on message. The signs may be bad, but things can change and we must not give up the fight – too much depends on it.
Firstly, the local elections were not nationwide and exclude parts of the country where Labour’s vote share has been improving. Yes, Labour have lost a number of seats, but Labour were only in complete control of 3 of the councils taking part in these elections and a number were rural Tory strongholds – of course, the media will highlight this as a national collapse, and likely lay all the blame at Jeremy Corbyn’s door as they continue their witch hunt against him.
Most of the recent polls have the Tories’ lead cut in half from where it was a few weeks ago, and that tide can change further in the next 5 weeks.
Jeremy Corbyn has one thing that Theresa May doesn’t, a personality. May knows this, hence why she has refused to partake in televised debates, she knows the only outcome is a negative one for her. There is certainly a danger for the Tories in playing personality politics – Corbyn is actually likeable, he is good with the public. The more the public see him, the more they will warm to him, especially in direct comparison to May.
The student vote will certainly be key in the general election, in a way it generally is not in local elections. Students, away at university with no house in their hometown typically do not feel as involved in local politics as decisions rarely affect them. But the decisions of national politics have them more worried. They, perhaps more than others, have been unfairly clobbered by the government in recent years.
Younger people traditionally do not get out and vote in great numbers, and it will be key that students and the young mobilise to stop the Tories further running their chances of a decent future. A recent survey has found that nine out of 10 students who are entitled to vote have now registered with 55% backing Labour – it will be key for Labour to court as many students, first-time voters and people under 40 as possible.
“Young people are turned on to what Jeremy is saying about the ways that politics needs to change. I wouldn’t, if I were you, call things too early. People want some real change in politics.” – ANdy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester
Labour will never win a campaign fought in the print media, there will never be a level playing field, but they must use the broadcast media to their advantage with a robust and clear campaign spreading their message far and wide. The Tories are desperate to say as little as they can get away with, in full question avoiding swing. They know they cannot defend their record in government and have no intention of discussing what plans they have for the country moving forwards. They are hiding behind the fog of Brexit. Labour and the left can cut through if they make their message clear enough.
More importantly, Labour must organise on the ground. They are now the biggest left of centre political party in Europe, and must utilise their half a million members to carry out the biggest local ground campaign in history. Grassroots must be key. Speaking to people must be the key, personality and approachability must be emphasised.
The left can be prone to complaining how bad things are all the time, I’ll admit to being guilty of this myself. Granted, let’s not ignore the Tory record with record numbers of foodbank usage, homelessness, zero-hour contracts, stagnating wages and a failing NHS among others – but Labour must utilise a message of hope, and a vision, it must unite behind a strong coherent message of a better future. It is only then they stand a chance of preventing a Tory majority.
Almost every move the Tories make is mired in negativity, Labour must spread the message far and wide. People respond to a message of change, just as they did rightly or wrongly with Donald Trump in America. Podemos, a socialist, anti-establishment party in Spain have proved that populism can work for the left as well as the right.
Finally, Labour must agree to a progressive alliance with other left-leaning parties. The Green Party have already agreed to step aside in certain seats to help keep out the Tory candidate and avoid a vote split on the left. Labour should do the same in Green Leader, Caroline Lucas’ Brighton Pavillion seat and other areas where it might prevent a Tory victory.
“The Conservatives are more than happy with this state of affairs. Apathy and resignation will secure them seats on election day.” – Jeremy Corbyn
People tend to agree with Labour’s policies when blind tested, but the party must dispel the negative image that the media have imprinted onto the public consciousness. They must reach those who are not particularly politically active and consume most of their news and opinion from the newspapers and are susceptible to Tory soundbites. This will be their biggest challenge, but one that must be won to prevent the furthering of the most ruthless Tory agenda since Thatcher.
To those unimpressed by the broken-record rhetoric of an incompetent Theresa May who wants nothing to do with the public, I ask you to look beyond media’s depiction of Corbyn as an extremist and a liability. Listen to him speak, see him for what he offers, his policies make sense – he wants a more honest form of politics. He certainly will not be hiding from you. He will not lead us in a reckless and egotistical manner which May seems to favour, he will listen to the people and put their needs first.
Consider how another 5 years of cuts and reckless Tory rule might affect you and your family, and know that there is an alternative on the table. There is only one option if you value the NHS, public services, education system, your employment and human rights. Look at the objective facts, not the slogans, and cast your vote carefully.
Britain might be shaken to its senses as the impacts of Brexit and more Tory underfunding, tax cuts to the rich, and austerity become apparent, but by then it may be too late – Labour must fight to the death for the sake of our country. They are finally offering you a real alternative for the first time in generations, don’t be afraid to take it.