Labour has stormed through London in the local elections as a mixed picture develops across the rest of the country.
Keir Starmer’s party has taken the totemic London councils of Wandsworth, Barnet and Westminster. This is a big deal: Wandsworth has been Conservative since 1978 and Westminster has been Conservative since its creation in 1964. Labour figures will also be reassured by the win in Barnet as it indicates that the party has the support of the area’s large Jewish population.
The symbolic importance of these victories will help shape the narrative in Labour’s favour but the story across the rest of the country is more opaque. As I wrote yesterday, the fact these seats were last contested in 2018 means that Labour has a high watermark. This means the question isn’t whether Labour “wins back” seats in the Red Wall because in 2018 it hadn’t yet lost the Red Wall. Therefore, it would be notable to simply hold onto their seats in certain places. In Hartlepool – the place of their famous by-election loss last year – they’ve done just that. In Cumberland, where there are three Tory MPs, Labour have won the council with 30 seats compared to the Tories seven. But in places such as Sunderland and Nuneaton their performance has been much less impressive. It’s also worth watching for Labour’s share of the vote. If Labour comes out on top, it will be the first time that’s happened since the Brexit referendum.
This is not yet a roaring success for Labour. Whether it does mark a “turning point”, as Labour figures are claiming this morning, will become clearer as the day goes on.
For the Conservatives, their collapse in London undermines the precarious electoral coalition that Boris Johnson cobbled together in 2019. The loss of Westminster is a significant blow, and the strong performance of the Liberal Democrats and Greens will be unnerving for Tory MPs. Expect calls from Tory MPs for the government to pay more attention to the south to grow louder.
Results will continue to come in from across England this morning and a clearer picture will arise. But most eyes will turn to Wales, Scotland and, in particular, the significant results in Northern Ireland where Sinn Féin is expected to become the largest party, which would stoke unease among unionists and deepen the inertia of Northern Ireland’s government.