Private jubilation and public leadership challenges: Two public affairs takes on the local election results

The local election campaigns produced mixed results for Labour and the Conservatives, with both failing to make significant gains into the other's territory.

A mixed night for the main parties as smaller parties made gains, while UKIP's vote collapsed
A mixed night for the main parties as smaller parties made gains, while UKIP's vote collapsed

However, the Lib Dems have made some gains, winning Richmond back from the Tories and the Greens have also made some breakthroughs, while UKIP’s vote has collapsed from its high water-mark in 2014.

Now, two public affairs specialists give us their take on the results:

Conservatives privately jubilant while Corbyn could face leadership questions  

In public, the Conservatives will talk in balanced tones about the result. In private they will be massively celebrating seeing off the Corbyn challenge.

Labour’s ‘incremental gains’ will not win a General Election and these results show that the party has lost its momentum.

A grassroots, get-out-the-vote campaign is doubtless part of the answer but so are clear policies that people believe in and a leader that can unite, not divide.

A campaign should address weaknesses as well, and in failing to address anti-Semitism in his party, Corbyn has not only failed to deal with an important issue but has reinforced the belief of some that he lacks the strength of character to be Prime Minister.

A counter-intuitive approach to campaigning, expectation management and media engagement will only go so far in appealing to the electorate.

While Labour will point to some successes, it has suffered undoubted failures as well, not least in failing to take control of Barnet and losing Nuneaton and Bedworth in Warwickshire, and Derby.

To win in unexpected places may gather headlines but to lose in areas where a party needs to win if it is to be successful on a national level shows that something is wrong.

The Conservatives have a leader few people in their own party support, are split over Brexit, see Ministers resigning or being pushed out, and have failed over the Windrush scandal, to name just a few of their challenges.

But still they have held councils and seen off Labour.

There are many Labour supporters who won’t actively campaign for Corbyn, or even vote for him, but these elections have shown that he can motivate opponents, especially in London.

This could be the beginning of the end for Corbyn’s leadership once his own side see that he has taken them as far as he can.

The question will then be whether a quiet coup is possible or, more likely in the absence of one true heir, a bitter public feud ensues.

Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell

Boots on the ground in election campaigns is no use without a strategy

Eight years into a Tory government and it’s hard to see what the Labour Party can point to as a success from last night.

Poor expectation management in the run up to polling day has allowed the Tories to claim victories from Conservative holds like Wandsworth, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster.

But putting the spin aside, this is still a bad result for an opposition party with aspirations to win the next General Election.

Labour gains in these flagship Tory council areas were always going to be a stretch target but the party’s performance also calls into question the effectiveness of Momentum as a campaigning machine.

Being able to call on thousands of volunteers to hit the streets in an election campaign is undoubtedly useful. But you still need to think strategically about how you use an asset like this.

Flooding supporters into safe Labour wards might make for a good photo opportunity but it doesn’t help you take control of a council.

Conversely, in parts of Wandsworth and Kensington, the spectacle of Momentum descending en masse will undoubtedly have been enough to persuade any waverers that the threat of a far-left takeover might not just be tabloid sensationalism.

Owen Jones and his numerous followers seem to be the gift that keep on giving at CCHQ.

On the Tory side, it looks like the Prime Minister’s appointments at CCHQ might be paying off already.

With Brandon Lewis at the helm – and with the support of dynamic MPs like James Cleverly – the Tories ran a smart campaign, especially in London.

Local associations and candidates were supplied with a steady stream of support from HQ, including high-profile MPs and boots on the ground.

This is a marked change from the General Election and bodes well for 2022 but there is no room for complacency.

In an unfamiliar turn of events it looks as though the Lib Dems could be the most satisfied.

The Tories tried to shift the focus away from the upper tier of the party with ‘bins not Brexit’ focused campaigning.

However Vince Cable’s party reducing the Conservatives to seven seats and seizing control of Remain-heavy Richmond-upon-Thames shows that this messaging struggled to achieve cut-through in certain areas.

The truth is that the Lib Dems often perform better in local elections so last night’s results are no harbinger for the next General Election but they can certainly take a lot of positives away from this result.

For UKIP, last night’s results might well be the final nail in the coffin.

So far, the party is down 92 seats and only retained just two.

Even UKIP’s general secretary, Paul Oakley, compared the party’s performance this morning to the Black Death.

The local results are a reflection of the collapse they suffered in the last General Election but it is hard to see a way forward for the party now that Brexit is firmly underway.

Aside from the performance of the various parties, the bigger picture here is that Corbyn in Number 10 became a less realistic prospect last night.

How Labour responds remains to be seen but it could be worrying for a Prime Minister who has been relying on such a threat to keep her party in check on Brexit.

Oliver Foster is chief executive of Pagefield

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