Most of the election results are in, official or otherwise. Devastation in Scotland. Vote share 6% down but only one seat lost in Wales. At the time of writing, 24 council seats lost. The bellwether seat of Nuneaton seeing an 11% swing from Labour to Conservative since the General Election. All in the atmosphere of an unpopular Conservative government in existential crisis.
One would think this would be roundly perceived as a disastrous result for the Labour leadership. However, following a smart and surprisingly effective strategy of significantly lowering expectations, many of the leadership and their supporters are claiming success.
Sadiq Khan will later be announced as the new Mayor of London in what looks like a double digit victory. This is a victory that is well deserved in the face of a disgusting Goldsmith campaign. This will be heralded as a sign of Corbyn’s success. Yet, it is a strange state of affairs that it is Wales and the Khan campaign, who isolated themselves from Jeremy the most, who have performed best, and it is they that the leadership will defend themselves with.
Scotland was never going to be an easy turnaround and there’s no evidence that Burnham, Cooper or Kendall would have done any better, in fact I highly doubt they would. However, in the leadership election Jeremy was sold on having the best chance of winning back Scotland, so to see a blow even worse than was predicted only yesterday is painful.
Kezia Dugdale has done a wonderful job as leader of the party in Holyrood. She led much of the campaign discourse, particularly on tax, being anti-austerity and using the new powers. Yet the ghost of the referendum hung over the debate, and that reflected in the results. It is encouraging that Kezia will continue in her role and carry on re-building the party. However, she must fully address the independence question, and not allow it to merely linger, ignoring its toxic presence as she did in the campaign. Scottish Labour must be unafraid to assert the socialist case for unionism, or face a continued decline and the rise of the confidently unionist Scottish Tories.
Much has been made of 2012 being Ed’s polling high and, some argue, it is therefore incomparable. An unpopular government, shortly following an omni-shambolic budget sounds familiar. Add to that a junior doctors’ strike, a steel crisis, U-turns on tax credits and disability benefit cuts and an open Conservative civil war and they do sound incomparable. Incomparable in the regard that this Conservative Party is far more divided and shambolic than the one Ed faced 4 years ago. Jeremy could not have asked for a government more for the taking, for better electoral background noise than this government’s failure, yet he has achieved nothing.
Nobody was expecting miracles in Scotland, and neither were they in England thanks to the lowering of expectations. Jeremy is seen as such an unelectable failure by many of his critics, that anything other than a national apocalypse can conceivably be seen as ‘better than expected’. It is this that allows today’s results, which indicate a trajectory towards a huge defeat in 2020, to be potentially conceived as a success. They are not. But they have given Corbyn breathing space.
Those who oppose Jeremy must now allow him that space, allow him the opportunity to tackle his shortcomings, and to broaden his appeal. Yes he has failed at this election, but the dystopian predications have allowed it to be sold as ‘mixed’. Yes we should be in a double digit lead, not an 11 per cent swing against. Yes we’re on track to lose. But if what you want is a coup, then that is not going succeed until a significant chunk of the soft left who rejected the Anyone But Corbyn cabal see that Jeremy is allowed an opportunity and fails on his own. It would be foolish of any plotters to strike this year; they would merely be rejected. Unless a major event destabilises Corbyn, for now he is safe.