Michael Dugher: Labour must win big in May and show we are listening to voters

5th March, 2016 9:00 am

ballot_box1-150x150

At the recent meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), MPs were reminded by Labour’s campaign chief, Jon Trickett, that the elections we face in May are by far the most significant nationwide contests to occur before 2020.  Trickett said: “Everyone everywhere will have a vote for something.”

A year after a painful general election defeat for Labour, the party faces big tests in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Mayoral contests – including in London, Police and Crime Commissioner elections and, of course, in local government elections across the country.  Much has been made about recent opinion polls and leadership ratings but, in May, Labour will know definitively what trajectory we’re on.

Local elections in particular are always an important opportunity for opposition parties to make inroads against the government of the day.  Labour analysis of local election results going back to 1974, reported recently by Politics Home, shows that opposition parties nearly always make huge gains in local elections in non-general election years.

In their first year as leaders of the opposition, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Ed Miliband all made gains against the Tories in local elections.  The same is true for all Tory leaders of the opposition.  In fact, average gains for new leaders of the opposition – whether Labour or Conservative – are 515 seats.  This figure increases to 526 for opposition leaders who then went on to win a general election victory.

During the Thatcher and Major governments, Labour took seats from the Tories in every local election but two during non-general election years.  In non-general election years, average council election gains for a party in opposition are 434 seats. And since Labour left government in 2010, we have won seats in every year there wasn’t a general election.

So May is a big test for Labour.  We need to show we are getting back in touch with the public by winning hundreds of local council seats across the country.

It won’t be enough for Labour just to do well in London.  Labour is already doing well in London.  We know that.  Our vote share in London increased by seven percentage points between the 2010 and 2015 general elections.  Over the same period, our national share of the vote went up by just 1.5 per cent.

In London, our fantastic mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan knows that Labour only wins when we run a broad-based campaign that reaches out beyond our core supporters.  To that extent, there are lessons here for the national party.  We are also blessed in London with a Conservative candidate who has not exactly set the heather on fire.  Whilst we are not in any way complacent, Labour is right to feel cautiously optimistic about our chances in London.

May is also an opportunity to show we can hold onto the Welsh Government, where Labour has been a governing party since 2003.  In Scotland, we were promised that Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message was the key to turning around Labour’s fortunes north of the border.  The local elections in England will demonstrate whether Labour really does have momentum, so to speak, and whether or not the agenda being driven by Corbyn and John McDonnell is appealing to ordinary voters.

The truth is Labour needs to be a party that the Tories once again fear.  And that means going on the offensive against them.  That’s why I was disappointed to learn that the one thing in common between all of Labour’s 16 target councils in the May elections is that they are already held by Labour.

When local government and our local public services are being decimated, and when the Tories are tearing themselves apart on Europe, this is no time for Labour to ‘play defense’ (to use that American phrase).  Any look at the historic precedents show that at this stage of the electoral cycle, Labour shouldn’t be adopting a defensive strategy: we should be filling our boots.

Yes, Labour did well in the 2012 local elections.  But you would be hard pushed to say that a moment two years after losing one general election and three years before losing another was somehow a high watermark of the party’s electoral success.

Last week’s PLP saw Jeremy Corbyn make reference to recent opinion polls.  Personally, I admired his optimism.  But May’s local elections represent the biggest poll of opinions we’ll see in this Parliament – real votes cast in real elections in every corner of the country.  Only then will we know how Labour is really doing.  May is a chance for Jeremy to defy both his critics and the polls.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and a former member of the Shadow Cabinet

 

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]

Latest

  • Comment Featured Uncategorized Britain seems to be fragmenting but English socialism is being reborne

    Britain seems to be fragmenting but English socialism is being reborne

      by Tom Kelsey and Jon Wilson The referendum brought to light deep fractures that risk destroying the left, and with the prospect of a bruising leadership election the divisions seem to be getting wider. Working class voters in once industrial towns and cities think their political leaders are out-of-touch with no understanding of life in a country many feel is rapidly changing for the worse. The idea of the nation, particularly of a resurgent England, has become a channel […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Uncategorized As the dust settles on the vote for Brexit, it is time to reach out to our democracy’s missing millions

    As the dust settles on the vote for Brexit, it is time to reach out to our democracy’s missing millions

    At a critical point in the development of the Labour party leadership, this article offers a few thoughts on a future Labour agenda for democratic reform that transcends internal politicking. After four years of working at Bite The Ballot, a party-neutral youth democracy movement – and one that unites decision-makers of all persuasions in its work – I can say that British politics still has a long way to go on the road to democratic renewal. Though the pieces are still […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    All told, it’s not been a good few months for the standing of our politicians. Whether you think there was a good case to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU or not, the reason we were all put through it was ultimately one of internal Conservative party management. A fundamental question about who we are as a nation and how to best represent our interests was embarked upon because David Cameron thought it was his best […]

    Read more →
  • News Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Neil Kinnock has criticised “ideological flights of fancy”, and said that Labour needs to show that socialism can “work in practice” before it can be successful. The former leader has said that winning parties have to be “professional” as well as having a “sense of belief”, and launched a strong attack on “career politicians”. “You can enchant people by ideological flights of fancy, but that’s not going to help them at all,” Lord Kinnock told BBC programme Conversations this week. He said […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    If we are serious about extending political engagement and closing the gap between people and politics, Labour needs to do two things. Firstly, we need to have a coherent and powerful narrative about bringing power closer to the people. And secondly, we need to have a series of practical proposals to make the political process more accessible and relevant to people. Even though Labour was the party which introduced devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and recently favoured “permissive” […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit