New Labour has rushed to try and claim that its performance at last week’s elections could have been worse.
Tony Blair said the results “provide a perfectly good springboard to win the next general election”.
But the truth is that this was Labour’s worst electoral result for 30 years. The party polled just 27 percent of the vote in the English council elections.
New Labour was completely wiped out in over 90 local councils. The party has suffered losses in every round of local elections since Blair’s decision to back the invasion of Iraq.
Deputy leader contender and cabinet minister Peter Hain was more honest when he attributed losses to “grumpiness – particularly over Iraq”.
Even prior to last Thursday’s local elections, the number of Labour councillors in England was at a 30 year low. Now it has slumped still further.
In Wales, Labour suffered its worst result since 1918. And in Scotland, nearly half a century of Labour dominance came to an end when the Scottish National Party (SNP) came top of the poll – not just in terms of seats won but also in total votes.
When Blair first entered Downing Street in 1997, Labour ran 20 local authorities in Scotland compared to the SNP’s three. Today Labour has lost all its Scottish councils except for Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.
Blair came into office promising to create a mass Labour Party with half a million members.
Ten years on, between 200,000 and 250,000 people have dumped their Labour Party cards. Party membership has halved to less than 200,000 during Blair’s time in office.
Jon Cruddas MP – another candidate for Labour’s deputy leadership – admitted that Thursday of last week had been a “grim night for the party”.
“The drip-drip of Labour losses means that the party is being hollowed out,” he added.
The loss of members and councillors presents a major headache for chancellor Gordon Brown as he prepares to take office as prime minister.
New Labour’s spin doctors like to believe elections are won through media presentation alone, and share Blair’s contempt for the party’s membership and traditional support.
But last week Brown saw the SNP sweep to victory in Fife Central, where he lives.
The fact that Labour does not have sufficient members or councillors in such core working class communities helps prevent it from mobilising the vote.
The haemorrhaging of party members looks set to continue, despite Blair stepping down. In York party veteran Liz Edge – a city councillor until 2003 – announced last week she was quitting the party.
The local press reported that she had left Labour over Iraq and because she could not “see what the long term policy is”.
The biggest single “political party” in Britain is those 200,000 people who quit Labour under Blair’s premiership.
Many are looking for a new home – and last week Respect showed it could provide such a home. And many more are willing to help build resistance to war and to free market policies.
In the coming weeks and months, building the anti-war movement and opposition to Brown’s pay freeze will be crucial to mobilising them.