The election results that we’ve had through so far are a pretty potent combination for the Labour party. Diane Abbott said this morning that they show that Labour is on course to win the 2020 general election, while Jeremy Corbyn skirted around what they actually meant for the party in the long-term when he gave his reaction. The potency lies in the party’s devastation in Scotland that points to a long-term structural inability to win a majority coupled with English council results that, by being less bad than expected, deceive about the challenge the party faces in winning in those areas in 2020. The party’s moderates are concerned this morning that the Labour leadership will be sitting back and patting itself on the back for avoiding headlines about heavy seat losses when it should instead be worrying that it has not made the gains that it needs in order to have a chance of winning Westminster constituencies in 2020.
Chris Leslie, former Shadow Chancellor and key Labour moderate, tells me:
‘All the evidence says that Labour faces this massive mountain range ahead of us and we have got to be open about whether we are going to scale it. Being content with base camp, core support is not acceptable. We have got to reach out and move forward. Standing still is not an option.’
Others point out that the 11 per cent swing from Labour to the Conservatives in Nuneaton is worse than the 4 per cent swing that Marcus Jones managed last year in the General Election, which suggests that Labour is not making progress in key areas either.
Privately those opposed to Corbyn continuing to lead the party are planning to press him over the next few weeks about whether he believes that there are lessons to be learned from this week’s results, or whether he’s very happy to continue with the same strategy for winning support. They are also focusing on this quote from John McDonnell last night:
‘The test for me really will be: In the last general election we were about 7 points behind the Conservatives. In September we were 14 points behind. So we're making up ground. I'm looking for steady progress laying the foundations for 2020 – and I think it's going to take that long. It's going to take a few years.’
The moderates feel that this shows what one calls a ‘risible’ lack of ambition and understanding of the challenge facing Labour if it wants to actually win an election rather than just draw level with its 2015 result at some point.
Others are circulating a quote from Corbyn in which he said his party would turn around its fortune in Scotland ‘by the economic strategy we've adopted of opposing austerity, by investing across the whole of the UK, opposing the Welfare Reform Bill and opposing the cuts in Child Tax Credits which are so damaging to so many families particularly in Glasgow and all across Scotland’. They are pointing out that this didn’t work for Scottish Labour, and are asking when the Labour leader will accept that his strategy isn’t working. But the problem for the moderates is that their strategy of showing the members as soon as possible that the electorate doesn’t like Corbyn and that he isn’t actually leading a popular political movement at all isn’t working either.