At best the results for Labour in this year’s elections could be described as ‘mixed’, but for a party which has spent six long years in the Opposition benches, and are supposedly enjoying the revitalising effects of a new revolutionary leader, ‘mixed’ isn’t quite good enough. Whilst Corbyn may point to the fact that Labour “hung on” across English councils, and “grew support in a lot of places”, this does not change the rather disappointing results seen further north. Tory revival in Scotland saw Labour usurped as the main opposition party, with the party’s share of the vote in Scotland falling more than nine percentage points and just 24 MSPs for Labour remaining, and the First Minister noting “the spectacular collapse we’ve seen of Labour’s vote across all parts of Scotland”. Critics have been quick to point out that Corbyn has delivered the worst set of results by an Opposition party in more than 30 years.
Whilst Corbyn has been desperate to see the recent results as a positive sign for the future, other MPs inside the party have suggested that the results are poor, and anything less than 200 seat gains show that Labour is unlikely to win a 2020 majority. Across the country voters switched to the Conservatives in areas where Labour needs to win seats to secure a 2020 majority, such as Nuneaton and Cannock Chase, making another Tory Government increasingly more likely in the next General Election. Corbyn may be pleased with the results, but perhaps this is a result on the bar being too low rather than genuine growth for the party. Even inadequate oppositions advance almost by default, with Michael Foot, Iain Duncan Smith and Ed Miliband all enjoying local success before national failure. Corbyn’s own foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, was rather more cautious in his response to the results; “If we are going to be able to defeat this government then we have got to win more support in the months and years ahead…We have made progress compared to last year, but we have a long way to go”. The Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray suggested that the leadership needed to reflect on the ‘Super Thursday’ election results, arguing that voters do not see Labour as a “credible party of future government”.
However, the party remains divided over the problem of Corbyn, with the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell noting that it was time for the party to get behind the leader that was democratically elected. But Corbyn was elected on a platform that he has simply been unable to deliver. We might have been able to forgive his divisive nature if it had gotten results, but Corbyn has spectacularly fractured the Labour Party to the advantage of everyone but the Labour Party. I am inclined to agree with veteran Labour backbencher David Winnick when he says “He [Corbyn] should decide whether his leadership is helping or hindering the party”. The party is facing a crisis and the onus is on Corbyn.
A chance in leadership for Labour is looking unlikely, however, as the loyalty of those who elected Corbyn as leader in a landslide seven months ago is unconditional, and was done under the hope and expectation that Corbyn would lead Labour through the General campaign. Were the Labour leader to be challenged, he would likely win an equal or larger share of the votes than he did last year, and such an election would only fracture the party further. It looks like Labour are stuck with Corbyn, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future.
The Conservatives have been quick to criticise Corbyn for the results, suggesting that Labour are “so obsessed with their left-wing causes and unworkable economic policies” that they have lost touch with the people they are supposed to represent, according to Cameron. A report for the Fabian Society by the political analyst Lewis Baston found similar results, with Labour preforming well in “the most modern bits of England” and poorly in its heartlands. Despite the deep divide within Parliament between Corbyn’s left-wing leadership and the centrist Blairites, the party’s best showing was in areas where New Labour succeeded. Corbyn may enjoy passionate support from the minority of the electorate that voted him in last year, but we are still left looking for evidence that he can extend the party’s reach into new areas that will chart the course to put Labour on the other side of the Chamber. Baston has said that in the past, as demonstrated by Miliband in 2011, a 1% lead on the national share of the vote has not been enough to put the Opposition on course for winning the General, and I would be inclined to suggest that 2016 will not be an exception to such a rule.
Corbyn has denied any plans to resign after the dismal election results, but his advice to party members whilst addressing supporters in Sheffield, “don’t worry about that”, may be far easier said than done. The results for the Labour party may not be devastating, but they are undoubtedly disappointing, and Jeremy will have to do better in the coming years to win the support of the general public, or even his own party.