Most of the results in the local elections in Britain have been announced by midday on Friday, with the notable exception of London. The bottom line in the elections so far is that the embattled and controversial leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has kept his head above water – just about. Despite his party being pushed into third place in Scotland, where it suffered its worst results since women were allowed to vote, and losing seats on local councils in both England and Wales, Corbyn seems to have survived largely due to expectations on the eve of the polls having been even worse than the actual results. But despite defying the dire prediction of a loss of over a hundred seats, the results for Labour are inescapably dismal.
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The rule of thumb in British local elections, when they take place apart from the general parliamentary elections, is that the opposition makes gains while the party in power loses seats, in what is usually a protest vote over the government’s failings. For the first time in thirty years, this trend was reversed with Labour doing worse than in the 2012 local elections and the Conservative Party actually making modest gains, particularly in Scotland, despite internal warfare over Britain’s membership in the European Union and a string of policy reversals.
The reason the knives are not yet out for Corbyn within Labour is largely due to a rare advance and efficient operation by his normally slow and inept media team. Corbyn’s people were quietly admitting in recent weeks that they were going to be mauled on Thursday, a successful exercise in expectation-management that allowed the Labour leader to claim afterward that Labour had “hung on.”
Corbyn’s long-term, probably irreparable flaws as a candidate for prime minister are his uncompromising far-left views and total inexperience as a leader. His woes were only increased in recent weeks by the surge of anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks, crowned by his old friend and left-wing stalwart ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s bizarre historical revisionism that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism before “he went mad.” It is impossible to accurately assess how much damage this latest episode of racism caused Labour, but at least in two constituencies which include Jewish communities, the party suffered losses.
Eastwood, a constituency of the Scottish parliament, which was held by Labour since its establishment in 1999, was won by the Conservatives. Eastwood contains the suburbs of Glasgow, which are home to Scotland’s largest Jewish community. Many of Glasgow’s Jews were in the past reliable Labour voters, enjoying a very strong relationship with the former Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, who in the past also chaired Labour Friends of Israel. The Jewish community is a relatively small one, numbering probably not much more than four thousand, but in what became a close three-way race between the Conservatives, Labour and the Scottish National Party, it is safe to say that Jewish voters played a role in this particular upset for Labour.
Further south, in Manchester, the influence of the Jewish vote is even clearer. Sedgley, a ward electing a council member for the city of Bury, part of Greater Manchester, is also the home of Europe’s fastest growing ultra-Orthodox community. Most of this community’s members are not politically affiliated and wouldn't normally have been expected to vote in large numbers in a local election. Sedgley reported a statistical swing from Labour to the conservatives by a massive 21.3 percent – this very clearly indicates that the Jewish voters turned out to punish Labour.
With its candidate for mayor, Sadiq Khan, well ahead in the counting in London so far, the night will still end on a slightly encouraging note for Labour (though it could still lose council and city assembly seats). Khan, who has been accused relentlessly of past associations with extreme Islamists, went out of his way throughout the campaign to court the Jewish vote, including reversing previous positions by declaring his opposition to boycotts of Israel. It is too early to analyze the Jewish vote in Britain’s capital, but even if Khan personally succeeded in winning hearts and votes, early counts already indicate that at the council and assembly levels, Labour is struggling in the north London areas with large Jewish populations.