Theresa May has seized on Labour’s failure to expel Ken Livingstone as proof of that the Opposition is “a long way away from the common, centre ground” of British politics.
The Prime Minister launched the Conservatives’ local elections campaign with a savage attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and on his party’s “ideological obsessions” and “the depths to which it has now sunk”.
At the event in Nottinghamshire - where the Tories are hoping to take the County Council from Labour control - May declared that Livingstone has been let “off the hook” despite his remarks linking Hitler to Jews and Zionism.
Corbyn acted swiftly on Wednesday to order a fresh probe into the former London Mayor’s conduct, following a backlash over the decision to merely extend his suspension from the party for another year.
Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee will now review remarks made by Livingstone since he was first suspended in April 2016 after telling a radio show that Hitler supported a Jewish homeland.
Corbyn said that his long-time friend’s comments in recent months, and his failure to apologise, had revealead a “gross insensitivity” to the feelings of Britain’s Jewish community, many of whom have supported Labour over the years.
But in her speech on Thursday, May moved to exploit the row by claiming it underlined just how far from the mainstream that Corbyn’s party now was.
The PM said that Tory councils focus on delivering quality services at lower cost, while Labour is “a recipe for chaos and failure”.
“A Labour Party totally out of touch with the concerns of the British people, which ignores the priorities of local communities and instead indulges its own ideological obsessions.
“A Labour Party which just this week revealed the depths to which it has now sunk, betraying the Jewish community in our country by letting Ken Livingstone off the hook.
“It could not be clearer that the Labour Party is now a long way away from the common, centre ground of British politics today.”
Setting out her domestic agenda in a post-Brexit Britain, May claimed that the Tories were now “the party of working people”.
“We must present a credible and compelling alternative, in every county, every town, every city. No ‘no-go areas’ for our Party and no community left behind in our country.”
Labour is trying to cling on to Nottinghamshire County Council in the May 4 elections, but also face being overtaken by the Tories in key marginal areas of Lancashire and Derbyshire.
One polling projection this week suggested Labour would lose up to 125 seats in the council elections, with the loss of totemic councils in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Tories and Lib Dems could gain up to 100 seats, while UKIP falls back by up to 90 seats.
Labour hopes that victories in the new Metro Mayor regions of Manchester and Liverpool will underline its resilience, but the contest for the West Midlands mayoralty is said to be on a knife-edge.
Analysts point out that a sitting government normally loses council seats mid-term to the Opposition, but current polls put Labour up to 19 points behind the Conservatives.