The MP in charge of Labour’s local election campaign has claimed that any progress on the party’s performance in 2015 should be seen as a positive result, even though that could mean losing dozens of council seats.
The comments by Jon Trickett, in an article on Labour List, have been attacked by others in the party who say he is “getting his excuses in early”.
Former frontbencher Michael Dugher said the party should be aiming for 400 gains in May. But Trickett wrote: “In Britain, politics has become much more fragmented since 2012 with the continued rise of UKIP and nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.
“At the end of the day, we should be looking for Labour to advance on the 2015 election results, where we finished almost seven per cent points behind the Conservatives.”
The comments suggest that Labour could claim a successful night even if they get 31% of the vote share, which could mean losing scores of seats. It is thought that Jeremy Corbyn was alluding to setting expectations at the same baseline when he launched the party’s election campaign yesterday.
“Let 5 May be the turning point when Labour grew, Labour got support and Labour showed there is a different, much better way of running this country for the good of all, not just the benefit of the very few wealthy people that have had it too easy for too long,” he said.
But others argue that the results should be compared to what happened in 2012, when these seats were last up for election. Back then Labour was well ahead of the Conservatives.
Michael Dugher MP, who was sacked from his frontbench role by Corbyn, told the Guardian: “Jeremy is right. Labour should and must grow in May. Labour should gain at least 400 seats in the local elections.”
Speaking to PoliticsHome he hit out at Trickett, adding: “The government is under huge pressure over the steel industry, we’ve just had a budget that was worse than the omnishambles, a cabinet resignation and the Tories are in meltdown over the EU referendum.
“If anything, the Tories should be there for the taking. Now is not the time to be throwing the towel in.”
The psephologist Robert Ford has argued that a vote share of 30 to 33% would translate into 200 or more council seat losses, with the party needing over 34% to have fewer than 50 losses and 38% to gain 100 seats or more.
Writing in the Observer Ford said: “The basic stakes are simple: Labour in opposition needs to gain votes, win seats and take control of councils. The opposition usually does well in local elections regardless of who is in government.
“Labour oppositions have made an average net gain of 300 seats in local elections since 1980, and have made net losses on just two occasions – in 1982 (immediately after the foundation of the SDP) and in 1985 (when the miners’ strike and conflicts with Militant were at their height).”
But those close to Corbyn believe it would be absurd to compare the results this May to Labour’s high point in 2012, when they made huge gains.
Trickett said the campaign will focus on four key themes: standing up for a fairer economy that works for all; standing up for families struggling to get on the housing ladder; standing up for safer communities and standing up for the NHS. “The whole shadow cabinet will be saying much more about this between now and 5 May,” he wrote on Labour List.
“It is equally important to have a strong campaigning party on the ground. Labour has thousands of new members since Jeremy became leader and we are now the largest political party. This can make all the difference in May.”
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