Barnsley Councillor Tim Cheetham asks, Who are you calling a loser? And he’s right, too. Much was made about the General Election results, particularly the splendid victory by Gisela in Edgbaston, and the fact that the much hyped Labour meltdown didn’t happen, and quite rightly too. This wasn’t a defeat on the scale of the Tory hammering in 1997, and Labour still ended up much better off than we did when Neil Kinnock’s challenge nosedived in ’92.
But there has been far less focus on the fightback which took place across the country in the local elections. As Tim writes:
As Labour majorities fell and seats disappeared nationally, the opposite happened in local government. Labour gained control of 15 councils, almost doubling our total. Labour Councillors who have, for the last few years, been culled in their hundreds every May, found their numbers swelled by over 400 new recruits nationwide.
In fact, Labour was the only party (and that includes the many minor parties too) to gain councillors this year. Brent, Camden, Coventry, Doncaster, Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Hartlepool, Hastings, Hounslow, Islington, Lewisham, Liverpool, Oxford, Southwark, St. Helens and Waltham Forest all became Labour councils on May 6th. A further group of councils, like Leeds, have since formed Labour-led coalitions, further strengthening Labour in local government.
Something to note about that list is that it isn’t just dominated by traditional Labour heartlands. Enfield for example, has only been Labour controlled 3 times in history: in 1964 when Labour as rising under Wilson and ‘94 and ‘98 when we were peaking under Blair. Hard to claim that we are on the up currently, yet Enfield is back in the fold. Hastings too, having gone Labour for the first time in 98 until 2002 is – against the recent trend – Labour again. Liverpool has only been Labour controlled for 3 of the last 20 years; gaining it back from the LibDems is a very significant victory indeed.
And here in Sandwell Labour wiped out the BNP, as well as winning seats from the blue and yellow Tories, and modesty almost forbids me to mention the quadrupling of our majority in my own Ward.
So, despite the disappointment of the general election result, we should take our lessons from those heroes returning in their small boats 70 years ago from the beaches of Dunkirk. They regrouped, and returned five years later to crush the unholy alliance of forces against them. We must not avoid the lessons of the defeat, but the Tories had a decade out of power before they realised that pondering their own navels was not an overly attractive proposition for the electorate.