If elections are a game of expectation management, then the bar of what success looks like for Labour is untenably high. Survation – one of the most accurate pollsters at the 2017 general election – put Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party seven points ahead of the Conservatives in March; and a staggering 27-points ahead in London, with the party on 54 percent compared to the Tories’ 27 percent.
Whilst the numbers suggest a commanding lead for Labour in London there are very few councils that could change hands, so we shouldn’t expect to see an immense increase in the number of councils Labour controls.
As Londoners head to the polls next week, even a blockbuster night for Labour in London wouldn’t deliver many gains as far as seat numbers go. In 2014 Ed Miliband’s Labour party had a spectacular year, in fact their best since 1974. Hoovering up the collapsed Liberal Democrat vote to win 20 councils and 1,060 councillors. For example, in Haringey they hold 48 out of 57 seats, in Waltham Forest it is 44 out of 60 seats and in Hackney there are three Conservative councillors, four Liberal Democrats and 50 Labour councillors.
Barnet is the most realistic London target for Labour, but the local position has been complicated by Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the accusations of anti-Semitism. The Conservatives hope this may be the decisive factor in a borough which contains the most populous Jewish ward in the country – Golders Green.
Labour are also eying up an historic win in Wandsworth, which would bring decades of Conservative control to an end and would suggest that the major election goody – low council tax – no longer resonates.
The Conservatives currently control 39 of the 60 seats on the council. For Labour to win they will need to motivate those voters who resent the fact that they cannot afford their own home, whilst hoping that the Brexit vote will keep some Conservative voters at home – 75 percent of Wandsworth voters backed Remain in the EU referendum.
Labour also hope to make significant gains in Westminster and Hillingdon with the general election result in 2017 suggesting that this is a realistic position. Mark Field MP, the sitting Member of Parliament for the Cities of London and Westminster, saw his majority fall from under 10,000 to just over 3,000, whilst in Labour-controlled Westminster North Karen Buck MP’s majority soared from 2,000 to over 11,000. Likewise, the Foreign Secretary and Member of Parliament for Uxbridge (in Hillingdon) saw his majority slashed in half.
Losing control of both councils next week would represent a terrible night for the Conservatives.
The Conservative campaign in both areas seems to have been well organised and effective. But long-term demographic shifts are not in favour of the Conservatives in London and until the party can find a positive message for Londoners they will continue to lose ground.
Whilst the major scalps and therefore news stories are to be found in London, the elections taking place outside of London will perhaps provide a better indication of how Labour have performed.
Residents in 35 metropolitan boroughs will be going to the polls next week. Labour already control all but six boroughs. The once solidly Conservative borough of Trafford is now a marginal council that Labour expects to win. This would take away the Conservatives only council in Greater Manchester. Labour could also gain overall control of Calderdale Council, Dudley Council and Kirklees Council.
There are also 74 district councils a and 20 unitary authorities holding elections. Labour will hope to make several breakthroughs, including gaining control of Plymouth Council, Milton Keynes Council, Amber Valley and Swindon Council.
Finally, if we see any surprise gains in rural councils where Labour have previously been in decline then we will know that Jeremy Corbyn’s party are without ‘no-go areas’. A Labour party that re-connects with rural Britain is an ominous proposition for the Conservatives ahead of the next general election.