The Liverpool View: Eight things we learnt from Thursday’s elections

Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Politics

  • The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is way off the pace in terms of winning the next General Election. Labour under any leader would have struggled to make substantial gains. They were defending an Ed Miliband high-water mark from the 2012 local elections. However, Labour didn’t make any gains at all – and we know what happened to Ed Miliband.
  • Perhaps worse for Labour, the party’s abysmal performance in Scotland – vote share down 9% – indicates scant prospect of making inroads into the SNP’s domination (56 out of 59) Westminster seats in 2020.
  • Neither points 1 or 2 mean a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn is likely in the next twelve months (although a pre-2020 contest is probable) despite fevered speculation. A challenge requires its calling by only 20% of Labour MPs (46 MPs) but would be pointless at present. The electorate of full members, registered supporters and trade union affiliates would not return a right-wing/centrist Labour candidate just because a (sizeable) section of the parliamentary Labour party don’t believe Corbyn can win an election. Those members will be cheering Corbyn when he arrives in Liverpool for the party conference in September, not seeking his removal.
  • The Conservatives’ revival in Scotland was startling. It is largely attributable to Ruth Davidson’s impressive performance as their Scottish leader and Scottish Labour’s inadequacies (four leaders in five years do not help a party). She has become the head of Unionist Scotland. However, the Conservatives remain unlikely to capture many Scottish Westminster seats.
  • Labour’s best performance was in Wales. Losing only a single seat to Plaid Cymru was impressive. A combination of strong leadership under Carwyn Jones, a good campaign and the inadequacies of rival parties assisted Labour. UKIP’s arrival in the Assembly via the regional list is just an interesting sideshow. The party is not strong enough in Welsh Westminster constituencies to gain seats in UK-wide contests.
  • In terms of the next General Election, little should be read into Sadiq Khan’s London Mayoral victory. It merely confirmed that London is a Labour city: 45 of its 73 MPs were elected for Labour in the party’s 2015 election defeat, highlighting how much Conservative Boris Johnson defied the odds in winning in 2008 and 2012.
  • Tim Farron has at least stopped the rot for the Liberal Democrats, who lost 60% of their councillors from 2010 to 2015 under Nick Clegg. The party managed a couple of morale-boosting gains in Liverpool and one in Manchester, indicating that the worst is over. Yet the scale of gains was far too modest for serious talk of a revival capable of recapturing the parliamentary seats lost in the 2015 meltdown. The party did best where it held parliamentary seats in that catastrophe with good results in Orkney and Southport.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Assembly election might as well not have happened. The five main parties were returned in exactly the same order of seats, with their seat totals virtually unchanged.


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