Labour has started bracing itself for a very unpleasant few days of results in elections across the country. As polls close in local, mayoral, devolved assembly and police and crime commissioner elections, as well as the Hartlepool by-election, a party source has said:
“These were always going to be tough elections for Labour. Keir has always been honest about the mountain we must climb to rebuild trust to win the next general election. Labour is listening and we will continue to change in order to win back the trust of working people in Britain and their communities.
Meanwhile, on the BBC’s Question Time, the party’s shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire accepted that Labour’s message wasn’t getting through to voters. She told the programme:
“I know that Keir has a vision for making this country the best country to grow up in, the best country to grow old in. I know we want to rebuild the economy. I know we want to build a better country to grow up and grow old in. We’ve got a great team who cannot wait to be able to cut through more and I hear what people are saying, it’s not cutting through, I get that. I think that’s a lesson for the Labour Party that we’re going to have to take into account.
Polls are now closed but we won’t get the first results until the small hours, with Hartlepool expected some time after 6 a.m. But Starmer’s team are clearly keen to get the message out that they are not in denial about the state of the party. They are also likely to place a heavy emphasis on the argument that the party is already in a process of change and that this needs to continue. Hence the briefings earlier this week that the anger on the doorstep seems to have abated (even if it has weirdly coincided with more voters turning away from the party).
Of course, the argument from Starmer’s critics — and they are by no means just on the left of the party — is that he is in danger of continuing on the wrong course. Privately frontbenchers and grandees are frustrated by the strange mix of bandwagon-jumping and caution that the leader has exhibited, and are fearful that he doesn’t have the guts to really change the party or offer an interesting and relevant policy prospectus. We are likely to hear heavy hints from these critical friends in the coming days.