As the honeymoon period for the Conservative government comes to an end and the cold grey morning of realisation of governing with a slim majority dawns to an increasingly shrill dawn chorus of the dispossessed, what of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?
It seems remarkable that just some three months ago, Jeremy Corbyn was making unintentional strides into the Guinness Book of Records for an unprecedented mass shadow cabinet resignation and looked very likely to be toppled. Showing limpet like staying powers and then going on to win an extraordinary re-election victory, the parliamentary party seems to have finally rolled over and accepted, that bar any accident, Mr Corbyn is there for the duration of this parliament and maybe even beyond.
Unfortunately for the leader of the opposition, the opinion polls don’t reflect the relative calm of the opposition benches at Westminster and continue to give the Conservatives a significant double digit lead, hardly moving over the last six weeks since his re-election. If that picture remains consistent there are significant implications for the Labour Party’s councillors.
Next May sees the county councils up for re-election and an handful of unitary authorities. In all some 2300 seats are due to be contested, nearly three quarters of which are county council seats. Labour starts from a low base, holding just one county council and defending some 370 seats. The Conservatives should be more vulnerable defending nearly a thousand seats and a majority of the councils that are up. The last time these seats were contested in 2013, the opinion polls were consistently giving Labour a lead of around 10 points; if that position remains reversed in May, Labour could be the party that ends the night with a bloody nose.
It is 2018 though that presents the biggest threat to Labour’s local government base. All of 32 London boroughs are up, as are 36 metropolitan boroughs. Of the 4,200 seats up for grabs, around half are labour. In 2014 the polls had narrowed significantly with labour having just half the poll lead it was enjoying the previous 12 months. Even so, if their support is still bumping along in the current range of mid to high 20s, just occasionally breaching the 30% mark, the bloody nose could turn into something more traumatic for Labour, as well as heralding a major reshaping of the local government landscape in London and the metropolitan boroughs.
This article was written by Frank Browne a former leader of Wokingham Borough Council and a member of our non-Executive board.