Local elections in the UK: Will Labour’s Corbyn be in trouble?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. Probably the first real test of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership is coming with series of elections today. What results does Corbyn need out of those elections to (at least partially) silence critics and what would be a very bad result for him?

2. How much is the campaign before election influenced by upcoming EU referendum, is this a big issue?

Answers:

Victoria Honeyman, Lecturer in Politics, POLIS, University of Leeds

1. In terms of numbers, anything less than Labour currently have would be negative for Corbyn, but there is more to it than that. Corbyn supporters have indicated that his appeal isn’t within the Parliamentary Labour Party, but amongst the people, the traditional Labour voters. For this to be viewed as true, the local election results will need to exceed what Labour currently have, the higher the better. If the results are lukewarm, Corbyn will be in trouble.

2.  The EU referendum is a very big deal, but is not necessarily having a big impact on the local election. Instead it is domestic politics, party politics and local politics which are having the biggest influence. The EU position is not entirely party dominated (as the Conservative party is split on the issue) and local councillors have limited impact on such a policy area, so the influence of that referendum on the local elections is relatively small.

Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University

1. No one expects this to be anything other than a bad election for Labour. If Labour held steady in terms of the number of council seats they won, that would be a very good result. Most people expect a significant loss of seats for Labour. What would be bad is if Labour drops down to third place in Scotland after the SNP and the Conservatives. That is a real possibility, and would really add to the general sense of decline in Scottish Labour. Scotland used to be solid Labour territory, and coming third on Thursday would be serious blow to a party which was already struggling to come to terms with the losses in the General Election last year.

One bright spot is probably going to be the election for Mayor of London. The Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, is doing very well in the opinion polls. A loss for Labour here would be truly catastrophic, but a Labour win is much more likely.

2. To some extent the EU campaign has gone a bit quiet in the lead up to the elections on Thursday. Some of the main players on either side of the argument are Conservative and there seems to have been a slight lull in the attacks against each other as the election has come closer. I suspect they will be at it again as soon as the polling stations close Thursday evening. I do not know how much the EU has featured on the doorstep, but despite all the attention the issue has been getting recently, most people actually care more about things just outside their front door, and not what happens in Brussels: potholes, anti-social behaviour, busses, new houses being built.

Hugh PembertonReader in Contemporary British History, University of Bristol

1. At this stage of the electoral cycle, and with the Conservative government in a state of near civil war over whether or not the UK should leave the EU, the main opposition party would expect to make quite significant gains in the local and regional elections this Thursday. The polling does not look good for Labour, except in London. Moreover, the local areas being contested this year were last contested in 2012 at a time when the then coalition Conservative – Liberal Democrat government was very unpopular (Labour gained 500 seats then).The Labour leadership is trying to manage expectations downwards, but any loss of seats overall will still be awkward politically.

Labour are likely to do relatively poorly in Wales and very poorly in Scotland, and may not perform well in England outside London. Significant losses at the national level in England (150+ seats lost, as predicted by Rallings and Thrasher) coupled with losses in Welsh and Scottish Assembly elections (especially if Labour only come third in terms of overall votes in Scotland) will create major tensions within Labour as its members of Parliament, most of whom did not vote for Corbyn as party leader, begin to assess the consequences of such a poor electoral performance for the longer term.

That may or may not lead to a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership – I suspect it will not for Labour has historically valued solidarity and challenges to leaders have been rare; moreover the parliamentary party is at present much more centrist on average than the membership (which has moved leftwards radically over the past year as a consequence of new ‘Corbynista’ members joining in order to participate in last year’s leadership election) – as a result MPs may fear deselection by their constituencies if they challenge their leader.

What might trigger a challenge is not so much a poor performance in terms of seats lost at the national level (which looks almost certain) but where performance is poor – significant electoral losses areas rich in marginal and target Parliamentary seats (e.g. the English Midlands) will generate profound concerns amongst MPs.

2. I would say there is no direct affect of the EU referendum on local elections – the referendum has a remarkably low visibility at the local level at the moment – except for a general sense amongst voters that the Conservatives are divided. However, UK politics more generally continues to be profoundly affected by concerns about migration – this issue is being pushed hard by those advocating ‘Brexit’ – and it is possible that may feed into support for the UK Independence Party in the local and regional elections as a result of its increased visibility.

Tim BaleProfessor, Chair in Politics, Queen Mary, University London, Author of the book: The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron

1. At the very least Labour will need to win the contest to be Mayor of London and retain its grip on Wales. If it fails in London, it will be a very bad night indeed, especially if Labour, as predicted, loses seats – possibly hundreds of seats – across the rest of the country in local elections. Scotland is basically a lost cause and the aim there has to be to finish second rather than third behind the Conservatives. It says something that Labour is even contemplating losses: to have any chance in the 2020 general elections it should be winning mid-term elections like these easily.

2. It’s an issue for voters who feel passionately about Brexit – which may help UKIP candidates pick up seats in local elections, but most people, if they bother to vote at all, probably won’t be thinking very much about the EU right now. That will change after this set of elections as the referendum campaign hots up.

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