The local election results in Derby last week were out of step with the outcome elsewhere in the country. Despite the usual spin, in London Labour secured its best result for almost 50 years and in other areas Labour’s council seats tally was the highest on record, while there are seats that Labour won for the first time in history.
Derby’s results were largely driven by the unpopularity of the council, which has been forced to manage unprecedented cuts imposed by Westminster since 2010. The legacy of a long-running industrial dispute with teaching assistants over pay cuts, following a job evaluation exercise also played a big part. I spoke to many Labour supporters who told me they were not voting in last week’s election because of the decisions the council had taken.
It remains to be seen what direction the new administration will take the council. But without adequate resources to fund essential public services, it will be difficult for the council to regain the confidence of local people, irrespective of who is in charge, as Tory-led Northamptonshire County Council found out this year.
The Government’s devious plan to devolve the responsibility for cuts was wrong. Nevertheless, even within the funding constraints to which the council has been subjected, some wrong turns were taken, and the Labour Group will need to take stock of where it went wrong. One area where urgent action is needed is to repair the relationship with the UNISON trade union.
The importance of the industrial and political wings of the Labour Movement working together cannot be overstated. In my opinion it was the damage to this relationship in the city that cost the Derby Labour Party dear last week. But the Labour Movement is like a family, and like all families it has its ups and downs, but ultimately we will pull together.
With the government teetering, because of its internal splits over Brexit, the possibility of an early general election continues to loom large. In such a poll the turnout will be far higher than the local election. In 2017 young people were inspired by Labour’s message of hope and the party won 60 per cent of the vote among under 30s. Furthermore, around 2 million of Labour’s voters last year were previously non-voters.
But in spite of the setback for Labour in Derby last week, if the results across the country were replicated in a general election, Jeremy Corbyn would be prime minister. However, unlike local elections, where councils’ ability to offer significant change is limited by central government, in a general election there is no such impediment. It is precisely because the constraints of a local election do not apply in a general election that I believe Labour will do much better.
In addition to young people and previous non-voters rallying to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, a survey for the Financial Times last week found that voters as a whole support Labour’s business policies. The survey of 2,044 people found that the public backed higher taxes on top earners by an overwhelming 5:1 ratio. The survey also found that taking energy, water, rail and Royal Mail back into state control are also very popular as were increasing corporation tax on companies, strengthening workers’ rights and cracking down on executive pay.
So while lessons definitely need be learned about last week’s results in Derby, Labour supporters can look forward with optimism. A Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government will put the ‘Great’ back into Britain by creating an economy that works for the many not the few.
This article appeared originally in The Derby Telegraph