Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
4 May 2018updated 09 Jun 2021 10:17am

The local elections were not a “bad night” for Labour – but Jeremy Corbyn needs another great leap forward

The party did not make the gains needed to be confident of forming a government, let alone winning a parliamentary majority. 

By George Eaton

Britain has entered a new era of ultra-hung politics. Were last night’s local election results replicated on a national level, Labour would win 283 seats (up 21), the Conservatives 280 (down 38) and the resurgent Liberal Democrats 22 (up 10).

Having been derided by the Tories for failing to meet great expectations, Labour activists are jubilant at this finding. In a hung parliament, their party would have the best hope of assembling a government with SNP and Liberal Democrat support. 

This was not, contrary to what some have claimed, a “bad night” for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. It advanced on its positive 2014 performance (the last time these areas were fought): gaining 64 council seats, while the Conservatives lost 20. Only a year ago, let us recall, the Tories believed Labour was destined for electoral apocalypse. 

But Corbyn’s party did not make the gains required for it to be confident of forming a stable government, let alone winning a majority (326 seats). Voters traditionally use council elections as a cost-free protest against incumbents. As Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband both learned to their cost, local gains do not invariably translate into national ones. Oppositions need a substantial mid-term lead to be confident of assuming power. Based on last night’s results, Labour is merely tied with the Tories (on 35 per cent each). Outside of general election years, this is the first time since 1988 when an opposition Labour party has not led the Conservatives.

The Tories’ support remains inflated by the collapse of Ukip – but the Remain backlash and Corbyn surge of 2017 have endured. Not since 1987 have the Conservatives won a comfortable parliamentary majority – and there is no sign that they will soon revive past glories. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

What of Labour? The party has not won a general election for 13 years and currently holds just four more seats (262) than Gordon Brown in 2010. It is thriving in Remain redoubts such as London (where the party achieved its best result since 1971) and Manchester, but losing ground in their Leave equivalents: Derby, Nuneaton and Redditch. Labour is hegemonic among young, liberal and ethnic minority voters but struggles among the old and illberal. 

After overturning a 22-point Conservative lead in last year’s election campaign, Labour hope and believe that they would overpower the Tories in a national contest (benefiting from broadcast coverage rules and deploying their activist army of 552,000 members). The next election may be as many as four years away – and governments traditionally lose popularity with time. The Conservatives’ epic divisions over Brexit could yet condemn them to opposition.

But the hope in Tory hearts, and the fear in Labour ones, is that “peak Corbyn” has been reached. The remarkable advance of 2017 made the party a contender for power – but no more. To govern for the many, Corbyn needs another great leap forward.