View from the town hall: Labour need to learn election lessons


- Credit: Phil Rosenberg

Despite a strong showing in Camden, Labour’s defeat in Barnet and loss of seats in Haringey leaves the Party with questions to answer.

All the parties have been claiming victory after the local elections on Thursday. Labour has won more councillors, the Conservatives outperformed expectations and the Liberal Democrats have showed new signs of life.

In Camden, Labour had a very good result, particularly in winning Swiss Cottage, a Tory bastion for 20 years. Having stepped down in West Hampstead I was very pleased to see my former residents keeping their faith with us and electing the fantastic Nazma Rahman, Peter Taheri and Shiva Tiwari to represent them. They will do the area proud.

However, around us, not all is rosy in Labour’s garden.

Labour’s top target in London was the London Borough of Barnet. It was under No Overall Control after the defection of Conservative councillor Sury Khatri in March and needed a swing of just 1.5 per cent to go red. There was widespread disenchantment in Barnet about the Tory-led council’s cuts to services, including libraries.

But rather than making advances, Labour actually lost ground and the Conservatives won back the council. Energetic councillors like Labour’s Adam Langleben lost seats, principally due to voters’ fury about Labour’s repeated failure to deal robustly with antisemitism.

If Labour is going to make advances and keep great MPs like Catherine West at the next General Election, they are going to have to reverse this trend.

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In crucial bell-weather contests in the Midlands, in Dudley and Walsall, Labour lost ground. In Derby, it lost control of the council. We need to ensure we are in tune with the whole country and not just London.

Despite their individual talents, it may not be helpful that London MPs are so dominant in the Shadow Cabinet, with John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, Kate Osamor, Keir Starmer, Dawn Butler, Barry Gardiner, and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn himself, all representing London constituencies.

Even in London, where Labour had its best result since the 1970s, it underperformed against expectations, taking only councillors and not any new councils like Wandsworth or Westminster. Winning them may have been a tall order, but it was what we had been led to expect was in reach.

It is the opposite of what we found in the 2017 General Election. Then, even though Labour lost it was seen to have had a better result than the Conservatives because it completely superseded expectations. This year, this opposite was true. Labour came out on top but did not live up to its own hype and so was seen to have failed to match its own hopes.

Going forward, Labour has a few key lessons to learn. Firstly, we need firm actions and not mere words on tackling antisemitism. Secondly, we need to lose our London-centricity and get outside the M25. Thirdly, a bit of humility and expectation management is probably a helpful strategy.