Starmer claims ‘massive turning point’ for Labour, despite failure to make breakthrough in North

‘An awful lot of work to do’: Elections guru says results do not put Starmer on route to No 10

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 06 May 2022 11:53
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Keir Starmer hails 'turning point' for Labour

Sir Keir Starmer has hailed last night’s local election results as a “massive turning point” for the Labour party.

Labour was celebrating the capture of Tory flagships Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet in London, as well as victories in Southampton and the new Cumberland Council.

But there was little sign of a significant breakthrough in the key Red Wall seats in the Midlands and North lost to Conservatives in 2019, which Starmer must win back to stand any chance of entering 10 Downing Street at the next election.

Polling guru Professor John Curtice said the results left Starmer with “an awful lot of work to do” to make Labour the largest party in parliament.

With counting completed overnight in 71 out of 200 councils, Labour had gained 91 councillors, as Tories lost 132.

Labour sources described victories in London “crown jewel” councils which have been in Tory hands for decades as “monumental” and said that the capture of Barnet was a welcome sign that the party was rebuilding bridges with the Jewish community.

Speaking during an early-morning visit to Barnet, Starmer said: “This is a massive turning point for the Labour Party from the depths of 2019. We’re back on track now for the general election, showing the hard change that we have done in the last two years. What a difference it has made.”

But leading elections analyst Robert Hayward said: “This is a turning point, but it does not guarantee Labour majoritry in government next election.

“Local elections in mid-term should show the main opposition party n a very strong position. It doesn’t. It shows them in a good position.”

Sir Keir pointed to sweeping success on the new Cumberland Council, where Labour took 30 seats to 7 for the Conservatives in an area where three local MPs are Tories. It also regained control of Southampton City Council, home to a marginal Tory seat.

Party analysts calculated that Labour would have gained 16 Leave-voting seats in the Midlands and North on the basis of aggregate vote share in last night’s results – Carlisle, Copeland, Great Grimsby, Hartlepool, Ipswich, Leigh, Lincoln, Peterborough, Stevenage, Thurrock, West Bromwich East, Wolverhampton North East, Wolverhampton South West, Worcester and Workington.

Labour national campaigner co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood said: “After the disastrous results of 2019, these early results are showing the progress we have made thanks to Keir’s leadership. Labour is making headway in England, Scotland and Wales, taking over key Conservative councils and winning in vital parliamentary battlegrounds across the country.

“Voters have put their trust in the change Keir Starmer’s Labour represents."

But one Conservative source pointed to former Labour heartland areas like Tyneside, Hartlepool, Nuneaton, Sandwell and Amber Valley, where they said Starmer had failed to make the headway he would need for general election victory.;

“There are more Nuneatons than Westminsters out there,” said one.

Conservative co-chair Oliver Dowden acknowledged that the loss of councils in London was a disappointment, but added: “It’s a mixed picture, because if you look elsewhere, whether that’s in Hartlepool or Nuneaton or Thurrock, we’ve actually made gains.

“I think if you take the whole picture of this, it really doesn’t demonstrate that Labour has the momentum to form the next government.”

England local elections after 73 of 146 results declared on Friday morning

Prof Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said he believed that privately Labour would be “somewhat disappointed” at the results so far, which showed it up by around a point compared to 2018 in London, but doing a little bit worse than four years ago outside the capital.

“The party can certainly claim to have done an awful lot better than they did last year,” he said. “Their vote is up by about five or six points across England as a whole. But then we have to remember they did so, so badly last year.

“In London, the party certainly has achieved a result better than anything that Jeremy Corbyn managed to do as leader, and perhaps ‘turning point’ is code for leaving behind the party's past.

“The trouble is outside of London, Labour's vote is actually a little bit lower than it was in 2018. It hasn't done quite as well as Jeremy Corbyn did. , Labour needs to do well in London to win elections, but doing well in London will not be sufficient. And certainly there is very little sign of the Labour Party making particular progress in some of those Leave-inclined places, traditional Labour places, in the north of England and the Midlands.”

He added: “This is certainly not a local election performance that in any sense indicates a party that is on course for winning a general election with an overall majority. Indeed, I’m not sure whether you could even say that at this point it’s guaranteed, or necessarily on course, even to be the largest part of the next party in the next parliament. There is still an awful lot of work for Labour to do, not least perhaps in more Leave-voting England.”

The left-leaning Momentum movement branded the results “underwhelming” for Labour.

Momentum executive member Mish Rahman, who sits on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, said:“From Partygate to the Tory cost-of-living crisis, these local elections were a golden opportunity for Labour.

“We’re delighted by gains in London, where Momentum members played a key role on the ground and as candidates. But these first results from the rest of England are distinctly underwhelming.

“While millions looked for an alternative to Tory ruin, they largely opted for the Lib Dems and Greens. Labour actually went backwards from Corbyn’s 2018 performance - a result which should bury Keir Starmer’s deeply flawed idea that punching Left is a vote-winner. Instead, we should look to places like Preston, where a Labour administration is delivering a radical economic alternative and getting rewarded at the ballot box.”

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