The local election results don’t really say anything new, but they do reduce the number of possible explanations for the 2017 general election result.
These locals have been an after-image of that surprising night last year. UKIP have collapsed. The Tories have taken most of their votes. Labour have “held on” where they usually hold one, won where they usually don’t, but, in the one difference from last year because they are defending their high water mark, they haven’t made huge gains and lost some seats.
To me, this all indicates that 2017 wasn’t a fluke, but both Conservatives and Labour have exhausted their electoral base. Stephen Bush, one of the few leftish commentators who are actually sane, put this well last night:
The central problem both sides have: there aren’t enough great cities in England for Labour. There are too many for the Tories: https://t.co/FAJ7ZTHBOP
— Stephen Bush (@stephenkb) 4 May 2018
George Eaton, from the same magazine, expressed the same point by saying Labour and Tories are in a “stalemate”. A slightly flawed metaphor. In stalemate, the match ends, the board is reset, and both sides lose equally. That is not the case in politics, where there is always someone in power at the end of it. Instead, let’s say that Labour has the Tories under siege. The governing party’s city walls are surrounded by a roughly equal force. Neither side can do anything but hurl rocks at each other until the city runs out of supplies or the attackers’ reinforcements arrive. But, the reinforcements are only arriving in a trickle, and there’s enough supplies in the city to last a generation. This is because the only thing moving in British politics at the moment is time.
The “demographic shift” of racist boomers dying and woke centennials gaining the ballot is probably enough for the Conservative party to be doomed in the long, long, long term; as cities become more electorally powerful, the most electorally successful force in Europe, which has thrown away the only majority it has won majority since 1992, will continue wane. But, because Labour aren’t waxing, the Tories still have decades left in them.
Neither party are doing anything about this. Both are playing to their new electoral base: UKIP and posh people for the Tories vs tin-foilers and the young for Labour. The thing that really brought this home for me was the behaviour of Claire Perry and John McDonnell on the BBC’s coverage. Perry was a perfect lying, condescending, party-line Tory ****. She made ageist comments about McDonnell several times, constantly repeated superb, but nonsensical, Tory soundbites, and generally misrepresented the hell out of the results.
Similarly, McDonnell was a paragon of Corbyn-era media handling. He contradicted himself consistently: saying he was being interrupted before then interrupting others; claiming that locals say nothing about general elections one moment, but saying that result X proved Labour could win a general election in the next. Whenever this was pointed out to him, he would cry foul and talk about the media misrepresenting things.
Both were an object lesson in confirmation bias. Anyone who hates the Tories would hate Perry (or ‘that Tory woman’, as Twitter tended to call her). But, anyone who hates John McDonnell, and wants him to be condescendingly bullied, interrupted, demeaned and have his hypocrisy brought out into the open, would love her. Equally, anyone who thinks Corbyn’s team is perfect and the BBC is evil would buy into McDonnell’s polite and repetitive dismissal of the media.
In short, neither party is moving and these results are just local government catching up to the 2017 shift. The new battle lines are staying where they are in a deadlock. But, this is a deadlock the Tories can afford. The besieged always have the advantage over the besiegers, even when they are outnumbered. Labour need to break their paralysis and start to actively stand for something other than “isn’t Jeremy nice?”