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Elections: Sunak hammered, no enthusiasm for Starmer

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What happened to the far right vote in the elections? And what's behind the Greens' support?
Issue 2854
A picture of Keir Starmer illustrating a story about the local elections

Keir Starmer’s vision hasn’t won full support in the local elections

The English local election results are utterly dire for the Tories. Rishi Sunak’s first electoral test since he became prime minister went very badly for him.

The Conservatives have lost hundreds of seats in every part of England., and this was in areas where they did very badly last time and therefore should not have fallen much further.

Overall  Sunak’s party lost 1,061 seats, and 28 councils. In advance some of the Conservatives had suggested they might lose 1,000 seats so that they could then say 600 losses or whatever wasn’t so bad. But their fake prediction has come true, and then some.

The Tories are a weak party, with a weak government and a weak prime minister. Sustained struggle by trade unions, workers and campaigns should be able to break Sunak and his coterie.

But there is no great enthusiasm for Keir Starmer’s Labour. On Friday afternoon BBC News released its Projected National Share of the vote based on key wards. It tries to work out what would happen at a general election and had Labour on 35 percent, Conservatives 26 percent, Lib Dems on 20 percent and “others” on 19 percent. 

It has obvious drawbacks. “Others” includes everyone from Greens to fascists to left-of-Labour socialists. And does anyone really believe the Lib Dems would grab one in five votes at a general election?

But it suggests an important point. There is a big Labour lead, but less than opinion polls have suggested—and maybe not enough to form a government.

Earlier this week election expert John Curtice wrote, “Labour enjoyed leads of 15 points or more between 1994 and 1996. The same was true of David Cameron in 2008 and 2009.

“Doing quite as well as that might be thought a tall order. But registering at least a double-digit lead should not. Certainly, if Labour’s lead is anything much less than that we will be left wondering whether the party really have as yet sealed a deal with the voters.”

Professor Michael Thrasher produces a different figure, the equivalent national share (ENS), for Sky News. On Friday afternoon it showed Labour on track to become the largest party at a general election, but falling short of an outright majority.

Labour councils don’t offer any real change. The Unite union revealed on election day that the Labour-controlled Cumberland council is using new pro-scabbing laws in an attempt to bust a strike. Refuse workers employed by Allerdale Waste Services began strikes last week. 

Allerdale Waste Services is a private company that is 100 percent owned by Cumberland council. Its bosses are using a new measure passed last year that lets employers freely recruit agency workers to break strikes. 

Labour’s failings—and continuing concern over environmental issues—made it easier for the Greens to move forward, racking up major gains.

In one example, Greens won all three seats in Leicester’s Castle ward. One successful candidate was a former Labour Party member. But Greens also did well in some previously Tory areas, becoming the largest party in East Herts after four recounts, settled by one vote.

And, in Mid Suffolk, the Greens have officially taken majority control of their first council in Britain. But in Brighton, where the Greens once headed the council, it was Labour that made the gains.

Fascist and far right candidates seem to have done poorly. Any vote for them is worrying, but anti-racist campaigning has largely restricted and blocked them.

The most successful candidate was Ashlea Simon, deputy leader of fascist Britain First, who came second with 405 votes in the Walkden North ward of Salford City Council. But this was a ward that the fascists thought they could win after a strong performance last time. This time Simon grabbed 100 votes fewer.

Meanwhile, Britain First Leader Paul Golding had just 107 votes in Swanscombe in Kent—5 percent.

Britain First’s Nick Scanlon came last in a different Kent ward. The party’s Nick Lambert in New Forest grabbed just 108 votes. And two candidates in Bideford, North Devon, won 96 and 108 votes, and failed to win either of the two seats available.

Patriotic Alternative candidates Paul Carnell and David Hyden-Milakovic in Cannock Chase came third with 126 votes and fourth, or last, with 81 votes respectively.

Meanwhile, the British Democrats Julian Leppert lost his council seat in Epping Forest, Essex, taking 187 votes and coming in third. English Democrats Leader Robin Tillbrook came third with 34 votes also in Epping Forest.

Although the far right failed to make the gains they hoped, the threat can’t be ignored. Many far right candidates ran as independents, posing as concerned locals. The Lincolnshire Independents won votes in numerous wards with a platform opposing hotels for asylum seekers as one of their main pledges.

But the results show the importance of anti-fascist campaigning. Stand Up To Racism and other anti-fascist and anti-racist groups have taken part in mass leafleting, in particular against Britain First and Patriotic Alternative in the weeks leading up to the 4 May.

There were some gains for left of Labour candidates who had previously been councillors.

In Liverpool’s Orrell Park ward, Alan Gibbons destroyed the Labour candidate. Standing for Liverpool Community Independents, he took 77 percent of the vote and won with 1,428 votes against Labour’s 360.

Gibbons was one of a group of Labour councillors who broke from Labour last year after refusing to vote for cuts. Some other Labour councillors, including Sam Gorst, then joined the group. In Garston ward the Liverpool Community Independents’ candidates Gorst and Lucy Williams both won with impressive votes.

The group’s candidates for Fazakerley East, Old Swan West and Croxteth Park all came a strong second.

The Liverpool Community Independents’ main leaflet’s pledges included, “Fight austerity—invest in our future. No more meekly passing on Tory cuts. We will mount a national campaign against austerity and for the funding that our schools, facilities and local services need.”

That will need struggle outside the council chamber.

Portsmouth city councillor Cal Corkery won as an independent. He was expelled from Labour for liking a Facebook post in 2016 about the rise of Labour membership in the city. The post was from the page of Portsmouth Socialist Appeal which was proscribed by the party in 2021.

Alison Carpenter, standing as The Borough First Independents, was elected in Clewer and Dedworth East ward in Berkshire. Labour expelled Carpenter because she was part of a closed Facebook group that has been blacklisted by the party leadership called Labour Left Alliance Discussions.

Carpenter has previously called herself a socialist. Her most recent leaflet, centred on “people before politics”, did not have that word.

It included pledges on parking enforcement, and said “We will focus on providing local housing for local people.”

The turnout at these elections was low and some people were turned away from voting because of the new vote-suppressing ID laws. The Electoral Commission said these rules “posed a greater challenge for some groups in society and that some people were regrettably unable to vote as a result.” These “groups” are young people, the very old, poorer people and certain ethnic minorities.

The last time the seats contested on Thursday were up for election in 2019, the Tories did terribly. Newspapers were universally damning. The Guardian said losses were the party’s worst in 24 years.

The Daily Mail asked, “So now will they listen?” The Times went with “shattered Tories tell May to set exit date” and said the Tories could be “out of power for a generation.”

But the Tories remain in government, still attacking workers and spreading racism. These results should be another spur to build the struggles that really matter—in the streets and the workplaces.

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