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Despite a number of high-profile victories, it is fair to say that Labour took a bit of a bruising in yesterday’s local elections.
Most notably, Labour made considerable losses in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Warwickshire.
Unsurprisingly, some councillors have already used these losses to attack the Labour leadership. The outgoing Labour leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, Alan Rhodes, stated:
“I’m hoping that Jeremy Corbyn is prepared to review the party’s position and his policies and the direction he’s taking the party in… if he doesn’t we may find ourselves in a difficult position for a long time to come.”
And the Merthyr Tydfil council leader Brendan Toomey, who lost his seat in yesterday’s election, was quoted as saying:
“It is quite clear that huge numbers of the public aren’t entirely happy, to say the least, with the way the Labour Party is going at the moment.”
But the loss of support for Labour in Merthyr is not tied to a growth in support for the Tories. On the contrary. Writing in the Daily Mirror this morning, Ben Glaze points out that:
“It is the independents – many of whom are former Labour members and back socialist policies – who have hurt Labour.”
In places like Merthyr, Labour lost out because their local councillors failed to provide an alternative to the Tories’ vicious austerity agenda. Because of this, socialist ex-Labour councillors, who were driven out of the party because of their principled opposition to cuts, were the chief beneficiaries in the Valleys.
One comfort from these elections is that UKIP’s support, at least for now, has completely collapsed. Another might be that voting patterns in local elections do not always reflect those in general election.
But rather than attempt to comfort ourselves, the left must face up to a few home truths. Labour lost out in the local elections because of the pernicious role of Blairite councillors in carrying through Tory cuts with no resistance!
Since the onset of the economic crisis of 2007/2008, the working class has been hammered by austerity. Public services have been stripped to the bone; underemployment, poverty, and homelessness are raging out of control.
Given that Labour councils have in many cases been responsible for overseeing these cuts, and have failed to even consider looking for an alternative, is it any surprise that their support has wavered – even at this crucial time?
Step up the anti-cuts rhetoric
As a palliative to this, Corbyn needs to step up the anti-cuts rhetoric. So far in his campaign, he has done an excellent job in positioning himself as an anti-establishment figure – a British Mélenchon, if you like.
But he needs to go further. Corbyn should pledge that future Labour councils would oppose cuts every step of the way – in deeds as well as words – whether a Labour government is elected or not.
This would have the effect of demonstrating to the public that Corbyn’s Labour offers a credible fighting alternative to the Tories. It would also help to distance Corbyn’s Labour from that of the recent past, where Labour-led councils essentially did the Tories’ dirty work for them.
Elected on a fighting socialist program, Corbyn would then be provided with a mandate to democratically remove the Blairites after the election.