John McDonnell has blamed “unbalanced” media reporting of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour losses in local council elections across the country.
With the general election just five weeks away, Theresa May will this morning be celebrating sweeping gains as she appears to have reunited the right with Ukip voters to switching back to the Conservative Party.
Results are still flowing in, but Labour has lost control of two councils while the Tories have gained control of five. Ukip has so far lost every seat it was defending. The Lib Dem results have been patchy.
Across England, Wales and Scotland 4,851 council seats were contested on Thursday.
One of the casualties of Labour’s miserable night was Philip Johnson, who lost his seat on Warwickshire Council. He said voters told him “Jeremy Corbyn’s style has been putting them off voting Labour”.
Johnson is also the Labour parliamentary candidate for the crucial swing-seat of Nuneaton. He told BBC Radio 4 in the early hours of this morning it was “difficult” for him to say Corbyn would make a good prime minister.
But McDonnell said Labour’s fortunes would improve in the run-up to the general election on June 8 as broadcasters would now be forced to give equal air time to both Corbyn and May.
“When we have a general election we get balanced air time in the broadcast media. As a result of that people can hear more about our policies and more about our candidates and more about our leader,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “The more air time we get the better.
“The unbalanced media reporting of Jeremy Corbyn for the last two years virtually has given a distorted view of what he is the more people see of him the more opportunities they get to think ‘this is the leader I want’.”
This close to a general election, an Opposition party would likely need to be picking up seats rather than losing them if it was on the verge of forming the next government. But the shadow chancellor defended the performance as it “isn’t the wipeout that many predicted”.
McDonnell argued: “In south Wales we’re holding on, we’re doing well, in some areas like Cardiff, which again people expected us to lose. In addition, Newport, where the Prime Minister herself campaigned to win the seat, to win the area, we’ve actually held on and won. And in north Wales we’ve had some positives as well.”
As well as local council elections, votes were held held for the six new metro-mayors. One bright spot for Labour is the expectation that Andy Burnham will be elected as the new mayor of Greater Manchester. However the shine could be taken off that win if Conservative Andy Street captures the mayoralty in the West Midlands.
The opinion polls have shown Labour trailing the Conservatives by a substantial margin. However in the the run-up to the local elections a senior source close to Corbyn cast doubt on the polls and predicted that the local elections would be a better guide to the eventual general election result.
“Let’s see what happens in the local elections. That might be an interesting measure of how things are going more generally and how accurate the polls are,” the source said.