POLITICS
10/10/2019 16:41 BST

Labour Faces Election 'Problem' After Months Of Retreats In Local By-Elections, Expert Warns

Jeremy Corbyn once berated the media for not paying sufficient attention to a parish council by-election result.

PA Wire/PA Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn canvassing on Nixon Drive, Winsford while on the local election campaign trail.

Labour’s vote share has declined in every single council by-election since shortly after Boris Johnson took office, a “striking” trend which spells trouble in any upcoming general election, a respected election expert has said.

Lord Hayward analysed the 28 council by-elections that have taken place since August 8, shortly after the prime minister took office.

Labour’s vote share went down in 24 of them. Out of the remaining polls, Labour did not contest two and was introducing candidates in the other two.

It also went backwards in wards in key marginals it gained in the last general election, including Cardiff North and Ipswich, while suffering in target seats such as Crawley.

Over the same period the Tories’ vote share went up in 14 elections and down in 14, amid political turmoil for Johnson’s government.

While these sorts of results in small local polls cannot predict the outcome of a general election, Jeremy Corbyn himself once berated British journalists for not covering a parish council by-election victory for Labour.

Lord Hayward, who calculated his figures based on when the councillor who created the vacancy for a by-election was elected, said “such a consistent trend over such a long period is striking”. 

Thousands of people going to vote indicate concerns that Labour really does face a problem at the upcoming general election

For example, in Cardiff North, the party’s vote share in the Whitchurch and Tongwynlais ward plummeted from 37% to 28%, with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru the main beneficiaries as the Tory party also shed 6% of its share.

In the Tory-held marginal of Crawley, the Tories’ vote share grew by more than 12% while Labour’s took a 9% hit.

Labour meanwhile held Ipswich Alexandra, a stronghold ward in the town’s seat taken from the Tories by the party in 2017, but its vote share fell by nearly 4%, analysis by Hayward showed.

The Tory peer said: “The biggest conclusion you can draw is two-fold – thousands of people going to vote indicate concerns that Labour really does face a problem at the upcoming general election.

“And secondly, it’s going to make it very difficult not just for the Labour party, but for other parties to identify what are the target seats.”

Lord Hayward also suggested on HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that many in the party want to hold off from backing a general election until next year.

The peer said he had spoken to an MP “on the M62 corridor, he has a 20,000 majority and he is seriously worried about his seat” due to the Brexit party threat.

Meanwhile, Labour also faces a squeeze from the Liberal Democrats in Remain-backing university seats such as Swansea West, Birmingham Edgbaston and Manchester Withington, Lord Hayward said.

He said on the podcast: “So there are a lot of politicians on the Labour side who might be saying ‘We want an election’... but come October 31 I think we might get a slightly different message out of those MPs. 

“The people I’ve spoken to fall into the ‘let’s have it after Christmas’ category on the basis that the more we see of a Boris Johnson government, the less the nation likes it.

“This is a serious Labour election analyst talking to me – then Boris will be caught in the vice of the Brexit party on one side and the Lib Dems in the south-east in the other.

“And yet he won’t have taken any decisions, he won’t have delivered on any of the things he was talking about, because 20,000 police don’t even start arriving until autumn 2020, etc.

“I’ve had serious Labour election strategists telling me ‘We’re going to drag it out as long as possible, because Boris will show himself to be what he is, and that is actually shambolic at administration’ – those were the words used to me.”