Kevin Schofield: Local elections have given Labour little to crow about
The party’s expectation management was well off the mark.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. But it’s also the art of making voters aware of what is impossible.
In the Westminster bubble, we call this “expectation management”. And if the local election results in London are anything to go by, it looks as though Labour got theirs very badly wrong.
The party allowed its more enthusiastic supporters, and some senior frontbenchers, to put out the message that the totemic Tory councils of Wandsworth and Westminster were in play, while Barnet was already in the bag. How daft those predictions look now.
The Conservatives held onto Wandsworth and Westminster with a bit to spare, despite small armies of Labour activists flooding them in recent weeks. Has so much shoe leather ever died in vain?
And Barnet - Labour’s number one target - has just gone from no overall control to outright Tory control. Chuck in losses in Derby and Nuneaton and you’ve got a fairly grim outlook. Labour have gained Plymouth, and shifted Trafford from Tory to no overall control, but it’s looking like a pretty underwhelming night for them overall.
I can’t really sum it up better than Professor John Curtice, who told the Beeb: “Apart from Plymouth, there isn’t very much for the Labour party to crow about. It’s actually lost a couple of councils in Derby and Nuneaton … it’s basically come away empty-handed relative to the expectations it helped to build up.”
There’s no doubt that the Conservatives will rate their performance in the local elections as a good one, or at least not as bad as it might have been. Some were making blood-curdling predictions of Tory losses in the hundreds, but as I write on Friday morning the party has actually gained councillors.
That said, losing Plymouth to Labour is a major disappointment, not least for local MP Johnny Mercer. But it’s the dramatic Tory collapse in Richmond which is most instructive. The Conservatives lost a staggering 28 seats, with the Lib Dems picking up no fewer than 24 to seize control of the council. It is no coincidence that the west London borough is probably the most pro-EU part of the UK.
For Labour, the post-mortem is already beginning and a great deal of it will focus on the aforementioned Barnet. One Labour source says: “This is one of the worst pieces of expectation management I’ve ever seen. Jeremy’s outriders have managed to do in their own messiah.”
Another adds: “Hundreds of activists were sent to campaign in the wrong places just to feed the outsized egos of a few pied pipers on Twitter. It can’t be allowed to happen again.”
Photo credit: Press Association.