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After all that, after weeks of the hyperbolic Corbynite Owen Jones cycling around Labour target seats, like Squealer from Animal Farm but on wheels (two wheels good), and of momentous hubris on the part of Momentum, with Jeremy Corbyn strutting about looking cocky and the Tories deep in despair, voters in England delivered a set of results in the local elections that stand as an amusing rebuff to Jeremy Corbyn and his Marxist cargo cult.
With two thirds of the seats declared, Labour has made only modest gains and fallen far short of the anticipated breakthrough. Votes were being cast in 4,371 seats in 150 local councils.
The Tories lost Trafford, a warning that their urban problems continue. The Lib Dems stormed back in Richmond, London, Remainer Central. And Labour gained Plymouth from the Tories – but it is hardly an iconic result as Corbyn claimed. Elsewhere outside London, the Tories held Swindon. Labour lost control of Nuneaton and Bedworth and Derby.
In London, Corbynite Labour was left looking foolish. Barnet, a key Labour target, went Tory. It seems Labour paid the price for Corbynite anti-semitism. Resources were poured into places such as Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington, and the the hype did not work.
Some initial thoughts on the implications:
1) Politicians have their moment, and then it passes. It’s not that long ago, in the Scottish referendum, that Alex Salmond was a thing. Four years later he’s a lost soul, presenting a show on the propaganda channel Russia Today. Likewise, Corbyn had a terrific year last year, proving pundits (like me) wrong when we said he was headed for an electoral catastrophe. He might recapture that spirit in three years time, but only the most astute or lucky of leaders can get back the magic with voters once it fades. Corbyn’s unexpected appeal last year rested on his so-called Magic Grandpa, Socialist Santa, niceness, that was anyway always at odds with the reality of his positions on Venezuela and the IRA. Labour’s anti-semitism disaster, and his clueless handling of it in recent months, has made him look incompetent at best and downright nasty and cold-blooded at worst.
2) The far left Momentum crowd has had a lot of fun since last year’s election result, when a dire performance by Theresa May and a cunning offer in the Labour manifesto saw the Tories punished for Brexit arrogance and much more besides. But the clue is in the name. Momentum needs momentum. The so-called “Absolute Boy” Corbyn is not Prime Minister. His personal numbers are dire. Post-Corbyn, the names connected to the succession are pretty unimpressive. The Corbynite ideas are also thin once you get beyond castigations of evil capitalists like wot I am. I keep reading pieces by Corbynistas promising the big reveal, only not yet. The new economic model. Automated luxury communism, one of them calls it. That’ll catch on! Yes, yes, capitalism has problems. But what’s the Corbynite programme beyond much higher taxes, presumably stealing property, and letting former Communists near the machinery of GCHQ? Come on, chop chop. Or has Momentum all been a hipster London conceit, a pose? Where’s the plan?
3) Theresa May is strengthened by these results. I said in The Times this week that she was stronger than she looked (couldn’t be any weaker than she looks, said a colleague called Phil.) I’m a May critic and think the Tories and the country need a leader, but if she is staying for now might these results encourage her team to use the advantage? Any cabinet minister resigning over Brexit and customs in the aftermath of these local election results will look like a total twerp. Under 15% of voters know what a customs union is, it is said. May has the room – for goodness sake get on on with it! – to force a compromise. These results should help. Will she take the opportunity?
4) John McDonnell is clearly getting annoyed, looking like a man running out of time. Early on the BBC’s election night coverage the far left Shadow Chancellor was pretty graceless. Perhaps this was because he was outgunned by the women panelists, particularly the Tory minister Clare Perry who had terrific fun winding him up. It worked. McDonnell is clever (as well as dangerous) and he could never have expected the Labour party to fall to him and his brand of Marxist politics. This is the window of opportunity for the Marxist maniacs. And it could be closing…
5) The Tory campaign team under their chairman Brandon Lewis and his deputy James Cleverly have scored a real success in extremely difficult circumstances, against a backdrop of Windrush, Brexit infighting, government incompetence, resignations and the economy wobbling. Although, this set of results counts as a creditable escape, the scale of the underlying challenges for the Tories, and the need for them to reinvent themselves with a new leader for a post-Brexit Britain, has not lessened. More on that and much else besides in my weekly email, out later.