Keir Starmer has hailed local council results in England as “turning point” in Labour’s fortunes despite failing to make progress in rebuilding the ‘red wall’ in the North and Midlands.
Labor swept the boards in London, winning long-standing Tory fortresses in the capital – Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnett, which is home to a large Jewish community previously alienated by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.
While 40 per cent of the seats being contested in England were in the capital, Labour’s performance in other parts of England was patchy.
Labor gained Southampton and Hartlepool where the party lost a Westminster by-election last year and in Cumberland they almost wiped out the Tories.
But in Sunderland, where there was a big Brexit vote in 2016, and in places like Nuneaton which they need to win in a general election the results weren’t so good.
Was it a good night for Labour?
This was a the first big electoral test for Keir Starmer and Labor are pleased with the outing.
Wandsworth, in London, was a totemic victory as it had gone Conservative in 1978 and the council’s low tax base earned it the reputation of being Margaret Thatcher’s favorite council.
Outside London progress was not so dramatic. Projecting the local vote, Labor claimed it would gain sixteen Leave voting general election seats but it is clear that Brexit divide is still there.
That’s why progress in Scotland, where we await results, will take the pressure off Starmer.
But polling guru Professor Sir John Curtice said: “The problem is outside of London they have made a net loss…you can’t win Westminster Parliament by just winning Westminster council.”
Is it goodbye for Johnson?
It is clear that the coalition Johnson bound together to win in 2019 is falling apart. Conservative councilors who lost their seats openly blamed the Prime Minister and partygate for their defeats.
But part of the Downing Street spin will be to apportion the blame elsewhere, like to party co-chairman Oliver Dowden for not putting his shoulder to the wheel during the campaign.
The threat of quick cabinet reshuffle, as Tony Blair carried out when enemies circled in 2006, could keep senior Tory MPs loyal.
The risk of misfiring the starting gun on a leadership race, with 54 MPs writing letters of no confidence but not enough other MPs voting to get rid of him, will also save Johnson – for now.
Until Sue Gray reports, or even if more fines arrive, Johnson looked under less pressure on Friday morning than Douglas Ross did in Scotland.
The end of Brexit politics?
It looks as if the Lib Dems, having secured by-election wins last year, have started to detoxify the legacy of 2010 coalition with the Tories.
In a straight fight with Labor the Lib Dems won control of Hull council. Against the Conservatives they gained control of the West Oxfordshire. The Greens also made gains with votes still being counted.
But the story of the night is that, thanks to a constitutional rift, post-Brexit England, like post-referendum Scotland, is still a divided nation.
When the Northern Irish senate results in, where Sinn Fein is expected to win, look for Johnson to revive a battle with the EU to keep that frayed Brexit coalition bound together.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.