By Charlie Kimber
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Tories battered in local elections—but Labour needs radical vision on Brexit and austerity to break through

This article is over 5 years, 1 months old
Issue 2653
Tory MPs want Theresa May to go
Tory MPs want Theresa May to go (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The local election results in England are a shattering blow to the Tories and to Theresa May in particular.

In their worst result since 1995, Conservatives lost 1,334 councillors.

The electoral carnage vastly exceeded the 500 losses that analysts had predicted. It also went well beyond the 1,000 losses some Tories had forecast in the hope that a few hundred defeats would not look too bad.

May’s leadership is once more in question. Several MPs have called for her to go.

Sir David Amess urged a change in the party’s rulebook so May can be removed from office. He said backbench leaders must act next week “because we are haemorrhaging support”.

Sir Bernard Jenkin said voters thought the prime minister had “lost the plot”.

“Certainly, among Conservative activists and council candidates, there is an almost universal feeling that it is time for her to move on,” he said.

As May came forward to address an invited audience at the Welsh Conservative conference in Llangollen on Friday, former county councillor Stuart Davies stood up and shouted, “Why don’t you resign? We don’t want you.”


The Liberal Democrats gained 703 seats, successfully re-establishing themselves for some people as the party to vote for when they wanted to protest at the main parties.  

Labour lost 82 seats. It is ridiculous for the media to claim that this is a setback on anything like the scale of the Tories’ disaster.

But Labour would have hoped to make gains, not losses, facing a government in shambles. On the eve of the poll shadow chancellor John McDonnell had said he hoped for 400 wins.

Labour’s position on Brexit has satisfied neither its right wing who want a second referendum to overturn Brexit, or those who want to push ahead with leaving the EU.

The party’s problems were summed up in Sunderland where the party lost nine councillors.

Graeme Miller, the Labour council leader said that voters “are not happy as a city that voted to leave the EU that we in the Labour Party haven’t allowed that to happen and they see us as wanting to stay”.

But Sunderland’s Labour MP Bridget Phillipson said the problem was Labour had been too vague in its approach and should now call for a second referendum.  

Detailed analysis shows Labour lost most votes in Leave-voting areas. John Burn-Murdoch writes in the Financial Times newspsper, “The vote for the party held up well in majority-Remain areas, but in areas where 60 percent or more had voted to Leave Labour lost six percent of its councillors. 

“In areas that were 70 percent or more Leave, Labour losses more than doubled to 19 percent. Overall, eight of the nine councils where Labour lost control were in areas where a majority voted in 2016 for Leave.” 


Anti-racists defy Nazi Tommy Robinson’s thuggish election campaign
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Labour’s problems go deeper than Brexit. Councils it leads have offered only token resistance to the Tory cuts. In some cases, such as in Birmingham, they have launched repeated assaults on their own workers rather than defy the government.

More generally Labour—and the trade union leaders—have not called mobilisations in the streets during month after month of Tory crisis.

Since the 2017 general election the main trend has been to assume that Jeremy Corbyn must act as a prime minister in waiting and that the Tories will collapse.

This drift has allowed the government to survive and has missed the chance to offer a fighting focus for the anger against the Tories.

It has also detached Brexit from agitation over the NHS, jobs, wages, education, action over climate change and other crucial issues.

The Green Party gained 194 councillors, benefiting from the renewed focus on climate chaos after the school student strikes and the Extinction Rebellion mobilisations.

Another reflection of the crisis in mainstream politics is that a raft of independents who won seats on a wide range of issues. This sometimes included racism.

The BBC projects that, if the local election results it analysed were replicated across Britain, both the Conservatives and Labour would get 28 percent of the total vote. 

Their combined share of 56 percent of the vote in this projection compared with the 82 percent the two parties scored between them in the 2017 general election. It was also down 17 percentage points on their combined level in the 2018 local elections and was the second-lowest such figure since data first became available in 1979.

The same analysis puts the Lib Dems on 19 percent. That is a significant rise, but it should be remembered that between 1993 and 2010 similar analysis never saw the Lib Dems lower than 24 percent. This is not the “great Lib Dem revival”.


The local elections are a foretaste of what could come at the European Parliament votes in less than three weeks time. These are likely to be even worse for the government.

On 23 May the Brexit Party headed by racist Nigel Farage will be standing—it didn’t stand in the council elections. It will take a huge swathe of votes from the Tories, intensifying their crisis.

It could also take some votes from Labour.

This is not the only threat. Ukip will also be standing a full slate of vile candidates, and fascist Tommy Robinson is standing in North West England.

The danger of the far right grabbing support was shown by victories for the For Britain party of Anne Marie Waters in Hartlepool and Epping Forest on Thursday.

Karen King was elected in the ward of De Bruce, in Hartlepool, taking control of the area from Labour. She took 49.5 per cent of the vote.

Julian Leppert, a former councillor for the British National Party, took Waltham Abbey Paternoster ward from the Tories.

The battle against the racists and the far right is crucial.

But there also needs to be a revival of all forms of class struggle to push the Tories under and to fight for socialist polices.

Socialists win seats in Northern Ireland

People Before Profit (PBP) made a significant breakthrough in local elections in the North of Ireland, winning five council seats in Belfast and Derry.

The party, which includes members of the Socialist Workers Network in Ireland, previously had just one council seat in Belfast.

Sitting councillor Matt Collins, topped the poll with over 2,000 votes in his West Belfast seat. This was despite a sustained campaign against him by Sinn Fein, who used election posters claiming PBP were responsible for Brexit along with the DUP and the Tories.

PBP took an openly left Exit position, on the basis of opposing cuts after vicious austerity was imposed by the European Union in the South of Ireland and in Greece.

Michael Collins told Socialist Worker, “We’re delighted to have increased our number of seats from one to five in this election. It is a massive breakthrough for the radical left in Ireland, and shows the appetite that exists for socialist politics here.

“This result is a huge message sent against the failed politics of austerity and division, and in particular, the disastrous implementation of welfare reform. With our increased representation, Before Profit will be a more effective force on the councils.

“We can raise issues which have been swept under the rug by the big parties, like the privatisation of our leisure services in Belfast. Ultimately, we believe real change comes from below, and PBP will be redoubling its effort in communities and workplaces to mobilise against the ravages of welfare cuts, austerity and sectarian division.

“The future looks bright for socialism in the North.”

PBP won votes in both Protestant and Catholic areas, campaigning against the hugely damaging welfare cuts, including universal credit, PIP assessments for disabled people and the bedroom tax.

Fiona Ferguson won a seat in North Belfast and Mick Collins won a seat in West Belfast. Eamonn McCann and Shaun Harkin were elected in Derry with Maeve O’Neill missing out on a third seat in Derry’s Waterside by a single vote.

Across the North there were a series of what one journalist described as “little earthquake” with Sinn Fein in Derry alone losing five seats.

The Green Party, independents including an anti-gold mining candidate in Tyrone, and the centre-right Alliance Party (sister party of the Liberal Democrats) saw big increases in their vote. This was despite the Alliance Party voting along with Sinn Fein and the DUP to introduce welfare cuts in the Assembly. The Socialist Party also won a seat in Enniskillen.

Colm Bryce


Another cabinet minister bites the dust

The election results came after May’s sacking of Gavin Williamson as defence secretary. He was fired after cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill announced an inquiry into who leaked to the Daily Telegraph newspaper the inside story of the 23 April National Security Council meeting.

This approved Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s participation in Britain’s next generation 5G data network.

Williamson denies he leaked classified material.

He later accused Downing Street insiders of trying to smear him, following reports he wanted to “invade Africa” and had made derogatory comments about May’s diabetes.

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