Published On: Sat, Jun 11th, 2022

Predictably, crude perception management portrays Labour triumph at local elections, yet Starmer Project continues to falter

At the end of May the New Statesman was asking “why isn’t Labour 20 points ahead [in the opinion polls]?” It was an article coming from that difficult position occupied by anyone tasked with creating the impression of inevitable Labour general election success in the face of contrary evidence – this time, the underwhelming results in the local elections of earlier in the month. In this particular piece, the local elections were deemed representative of Labour’s 5 point lead in opinion polls, which would translate to a general election win – or so it was claimed. As such, the main objective was achieved – but the sticking point for the Starmer Project, which is that Labour is actually not doing nearly as well as it needs, is evidently such a source of irritation that it has to be laundered in public; i.e. the ruing of the too low poll lead. So, in the end, there’s no hiding the failure – nor, indeed, the astonishment that the Starmer Project could be failing, which must come with misleading analysis and gaslighting to the effect that whatever is to be done about it will fix it.

As for the real explanation for the stalled Starmer Project, and how it involved a collapse in support due to alienation due to fundamental differences, when he doled out the following damning judgement on Labour’s local election performance, John Curtice, “the leading elections expert”, indicated that it is a thing known of by the ruling class but never to be mentioned, and suggested that the solution was the persuasion (hoodwinking) of folk  in “leave-voting England” – as the reader will see by reading the condemnation to the end:

I would say that Labour are probably somewhat disappointed. I think they would have wanted to have clearly registered that their vote was up on what it was four years ago. Actually, [it is] probably marginally. If you just look at those wards where Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats fought – the real litmus test – in those wards Labour are very slightly down.

[They are] doing a bit better in London – probably up a point or so there on 2018. But, conversely therefore, [they are] actually doing a little bit worse outside of London.

Yes, Labour has certainly made progress as compared with last year but last year was a very poor performance – four points up on last year was not exactly surprising.

Therefore this is certainly not a local election performance that in any sense indicates a party that is on course for winning a general election with an overall majority. Indeed, I’m not sure whether you could even say that at this point it’s guaranteed, or necessarily on course, even to be the largest part of the next party in the next parliament. There is still an awful lot of work for Labour to do, not least perhaps in more leave-voting England.

Along with the advice towards a solution, the admission, after optimistic noises, that Labour is not doing nearly as well as it needs makes this statement, in form, rather like a concise version of the New Statesman article.

The reader, then, should be in no doubt about the failure of the Starmer Project according to the way it is being coped with in corporate-media in the wake of the latest test of its progress (the local elections). Additionally, when we examine – very briefly – some of the results of that test, we can see clearly for ourselves the reason for the consternation. Now, of course, the title of the piece refers to “crude perception management [that] portrays Labour triumph”, and this is an allusion to the propaganda-fuelling wins in London that the reader has seen mentioned in the extract quoting Curtice – but this is very swiftly dealt with by explaining that the elections results at Wandsworth, Westminster and Barnet (characterised at The Independent as “The jewels in the Tory crown… now in the hands of Labour”) came about after boundary changes and every new seat being contested, and a situation that smacks of timely gerrymandering. The point is this: beyond the sensational results that have the whiff of being over-engineered about them, there is no sensational Labour performance.

To see this, we are going to look at “key” results as defined by pre-election corporate-media analysis offering guidance to how certain outcomes would tell of good or bad product for each of the three main political parties. In this way, the performances of Labour and the Tories can be gauged against expectations for propaganda; the interest, however, doesn’t extend to the Liberal Democrats because of their irrelevance in the broad context of our discussion: the Lib Dems are saturated in support, meaning any that is meaningful has already been gathered, and there will be little to be done with any additional that comes from the tactical voting (after a pact with Labour) that will be necessary to deliver the Starmer Project. While on this subject, irrelevance is also another reason to dismiss the London Labour results: UK Government needs to have England support the party being selected to become the executive branch, and it is in England, not London, where disaffection is going to make a difference against rule by UK Government, and where non-participation in the system to spoil the machinations needs to be monitored.

The piece of pre-election that is going to serve as a template for this article is from The Telegraph (the author does not own a subscription) where the following summarisation sets a general tone for expectations: “Labour banks on voter boost after ‘partygate’ fallout”. Incidentally, and needless to say, “partygate” has been used as cover for a general collapse in support for the Tories (for the exact same reasons as there has been collapse in support for Labour), but in itself has had very little impact. A particularly poor example of a military intelligence psychological operation (as we should suspect), “partygate” appears to have been officially consigned to the trash can of history by a vote of confidence by Tory MPs in the leadership of Boris Johnson.

Splitting the political battlefield into “north” and “south” (we’ll overlook the usual London-centric ignorance of the Midlands), the immediate preoccupation was with that so-called “Red Wall” that must be seen to be delivered back to Labour after the Tories made gains in the last general election (i.e. benefitted from being the biggest party after the collapse in Labour support). The Telegraph analysis named Burnley, Wirral, Rossendale and West Lancashire as target councils for Labour. In all these places, the party has been the largest, but recently this dominance has been lost, with the councils slipping into a state of no party having overall control. The local elections, stated the article, allowed an opportunity for Labour to “rebuild its Red Wall” by regaining overall control in these councils.

As things turned out, at Burnley and West Lancashire there was no change at all. At the Wirral, the Tory party closed the gap between it and Labour by two councillors. Thus far, then, by the measures suggested by clever propogandists in corporate-media, there was no rebuilding to be seen. Rossendale, however, was slightly different, and did see Labour take control of the council – although this success needs to be tempered with the information that in one pertinent ward of two, the Tory was beaten by the Labour candidate by 6 votes, and only 1128 people voted for both. Moreover, in the other ward, the gap between the two parties was slightly more substantial at 124, with 1240 votes split between them. So, this result is a prime example of a “so-what?” outcome, and how a little deal at a local election could be blown out of all proportion by corporate-media punditry and politicians looking to shape a national message – just as explained in the FBEL article, Local Elections Explained: A Clique Elects Its Own, The Public Think About Ramifications For Westminster (link). All in all, it is fair to say that the aforementioned opportunity was not taken.

The focus on the next two suggested targets, Hartlepool and Bolton, was Labour being seen to be able to damage something termed as “the Conservative’s Northern credentials”. Because the Tories were the largest party in both councils before the elections, Labour seat wins alone (with no shifts in control required) would be enough to show mightiness, and produce a symbolic effect. In other words – as best as can be construed – playing on the class war stereotypes, the effect to be attained was one of being seen to chase imposter Tories out of areas where they don’t belong.

As things turned out, the Conservatives gained a councillor directly from Labour (in Little Lever and Darcy Lever), so that with Labour winning one from an independent candidate, the net effect was the Tory party increasing its lead as the largest on the council (with a state of no overall control maintained). Things were as bad for Labour in Hartlepool, with the Tories gaining two councillors – one directly from them – to continue being the largest party (with no overall control). Again, Labour could not take a seat directly off the Tories. With interest we must note that the turnout at Hartlepool was 28.16%, with this being an indicator that the Tory “tall tree syndrome” (after Labour has been cut down in support) still applies.

The next targets as reckoned by the Telegraph analysis were Sheffield and Kirklees, because – it seems – Labour were very close to the line by which an overall majority could be had, and (all things being normal) the momentum that the party should have been enjoying on its way to general election success would cause expectation that the required additional number of seats could be won.

In actual fact, the Tories were never in the Sheffield contest (having only 1 councillor), so it was a fight with the Lib Dems, and a different sort of measure. Nevertheless, the Labour party still failed to take control of the council. Kirklees was a different kettle of fish, because Labour winning the council would involve a contest with the Tories, which would reflect the same confrontation to come in the by-election in neighbouring Wakefield (to be held later in this month of June). Wakefield, of course, is one of the  lost “Red Wall” seats that needs to be seen to be gathered back into the Labour fold. One can see how the Kirklees local election would fit into the greater scheme of propaganda by looking at what The Guardian said about the prospect of a newly-won Labour council in its pre-election coverage:

Kirklees is one of Labour’s most closely watched councils. The party hopes to win the two seats it needs for a majority, and to indicate it is on course to win the neighbouring Wakefield byelection.

If the above extract gives the impression that Kirklees would have been a council election that many Labour resources would have been poured into in order to gain a crucial win, then the results serve to reinforce it. In 2019, when the exact same wards were contested in the council elections of that year, Labour garnered 37,976 votes (36.7%), the Tories 26,055 (25.2%), and the Lib Dems 14,812 (14.3%). This time the numbers were 44,786 (40.9%); 34,895 (31.9); and 14,409 (13.2%).

There’s more suggestion of a war-chest being unloaded on Kirklees in the shape of a trip to Dewsbury in April, according to the Yorkshire Post, by Keir Starmer who stated at the time that Labour considered winning back Kirklees council to be a “really important priority”. Moreover, Starmer was in Kirklees again on 4th May – the day before the vote – having also been visiting Wakefield and making pronouncements about expecting to win that by-election. Clearly, this information helps make sense of the voting figures: there was motivation of both Labour and (in reaction) Tory camps coming from this attention bestowed on Kirklees by the national party.

Furthermore, when the Labour party took both seats it needed, beating the Tories in two wards, the turnout in these was exceptionally high for the context of a local election: Denby Dale 43.3%, and Home Valley South 42.2% – these were the highest turnouts across the council on the day. Moreover, in both seats the Liberal Democrat share of the vote crashed from 2019. In Denby Dale, it went from 676 (13.8%) to 264 (4.6%), and in Home Valley South, 539 (9.4%) to 264 (4.6%). So, quite evidently part of the supercharging of the contest by visitation of Starmer and – we can safely assume – other intense Labour activism was an appeal to the covert pact with the Lib Dems as lately discussed in the FBEL articleApparently, The Starmer Project Is Failing So Badly It Needs An Electoral Pact With The Lib Dems.

Of course, the trouble with the Kirklees result is that, potentially, in spite of the appearance of great things having been done, all the campaigning effort ultimately resulted in two councillors elected. It begs the question, therefore, that if huge turns on the cogs of Labour election machinery transmit such little movement, and if resources are stretched anyway so that the many hands that are needed are not available to turn the wheels (Labour membership has taken a dive since Starmer became leader – it’s not hard to find a report about it on the internet), will it be possible for Labour to be so dedicatedly propaganda-intensive everywhere that it is needed in a general election?

Moving to the slightly different point of view of what distinct Labour failure might look like, it was deemed in the Telegraph analysis that the party could be said to have performed badly in the local elections per se if councils such as the Lancashire ones of Hyndburn, Chorley and Pendle saw the Tories consolidate or improve upon recent gains (again – without looking too deeply in to it – [as we might suspect] due to their “tall tree syndrome”).

In Chorley, the recent Tory gains seem to have come in 2021, with the winning of 3 new councillors – and there definitely was a reaction in 2022, because Labour won 3 seats directly from the Tories. However, this council is actually a bit of a straw man, because the 2021 election came after boundary changes and all wards were contested for the election, in each, of 3 councillors. A normal cycle of electing a third of councillors each year would then begin in 2022. Now, back in 2019, before the changes, Labour had been dominant, winning 5 seats. Indeed, the track of seat ownership looked like this: 2019: Labour 37, Tory 8; 2021: Labour 29, Tory 13; 2022: Labour 32, Tory 10. Chorley, it seems, has been a place bucking the real trend in politics, and in fact it is the parliamentary seat from whence the current speaker of the house, a former Labour MP first elected in 1997, was elected in 2019.

The same sort of thing happened in Pendle, where there was also boundary changes for 2021. On this occasion, it was the Tories who were consolidating their dominance. The reason why this council can be treated with significance in the context of gauging the relative performance of Labour is that two seat losses for the Tories appear to have occurred directly at the hands of the Lib Dems. Moreover, the Tories maintained overall control of the council, leaving Labour in second place, 6 councillors behind.

On the other hand, the result in Hyndburn is a real one for the purpose of detecting Labour success or failure, because the 2021 election did not occur after boundary changes, but instead was the 2020 round of voting postponed due to the fake pandemic. In 2021, the Tories made a net gain of 4 councillors, all directly taken from Labour. In 2022, the Tories won 3 councillors directly from Labour (with Labour taking another back for a net loss of 2). So, in the one true test as defined by clever corporate-media propagandists, the very thing happened that would indicate a catastrophe for Labour. Now, it has to be owned that there is a touch of the “so-whats?” about Hyndburn as there is about Rossendale, with the results being decided by a very small amount of people – but here’s the thing. In 2022, Hyndburn went from a Labour controlled council to one where no party has overall control, with Labour losing 6 councillors to the Tories over 2 years. Rossendale went from no overall control to Labour, with that party making a net gain of zero councillors directly from the Tories in the same time. The difference is self-evident, but more importantly, because the results are of the same ilk, they can tell a story, together, about the degradation of Labour, where losses are catastrophic, and bounce-backs indicate steadily decreasing powers of recovery.

With that concluding the Telegraph’s tips for results to look out for in the so-called north, the conclusion one can make is that UK Government would have to be very disappointed in the outcomes for the sake of its Starmer Project, because the “north” has to be assured Labour territory, and it is far from it. The fate of the Starmer Project somewhat depends on a Labour dominance which is not there to be had.

As for the “south”, the requirement is that Labour is seen to be successful for the sake of being an executive branch over a unified England – but, as we will see, this is going to be hard to achieve as well, especially because it is in “south” where the pact with the Lab Dems is especially necessary to see off the Tories in the first instance.

The Telegraph piece points out that, of the 45 Tory majority councils in England before the local elections, all but one are outside the “north”.  Ultimately, it has to be case that, because of the window-dressing nature of Labour success in this arena, so few tips for key seats were given in respect of the Tory versus Labour battle: only 5, in fact. The begin with, the follower of the Telegraph’s analysis was asked to look out for signs of Labour challenge in 3 places where the Tories could have been likely to lose control:  West Oxfordshire, Welwyn Hatfield and Huntingdonshire.

As things turned out, both West Oxfordshire and Huntingdonshire were lost to the Tories, but it was no thanks to Labour. In the former, the Tories lost 3 seats to the Lib Dems, 1 to the Greens, and 1 to Labour. In Huntingdonshire, the Tories suffered a net loss of 7 councillors, but the vast majority of these were to independent councillors, with Labour only directly taking 1. Come a general election, the people who elected 4 additional independents are bound to be the type who can be frightened back into line by the Labour bogeyman, so that a result can be expected more akin to the one at Welwyn Hatfield where the Tories held on to the council (in fact, it’s a good bet that the Tories are running Huntingdonshire in a coalition with the independents – as is actually the case in Hyndburn (the one council that the author has checked out to see where this is happening).

In the very final category of potential key seat – at least as far as we are interested – the focus was on where the Tories could be denied, but where Labour could win, and the Telegraph analysis told its readers to look out for Southampton, where a flip of just two seats from the Tories would see Labour majority, and also for Worthing, where the same number of seats had to be turned to win a council that had never before been held by Labour.

Now, the first thing to say of the Worthing result is that it smacks of being delivered by focussed campaigning in the same way as was the Kirklees one. Starmer, himself, visited the town on 2nd May. Labour gained 2 councillors in the Castle ward, 1 in the Gaisford ward, 1 in Marine,  and 1 in Northbrook, all seemingly directly from the Tories. Notably, the Lib Dems did not stand candidates in a number of wards, one of these being Marine, where the turnout was 45%. Indeed, the change in numbers of voters, and percentage share resembles very closely that of Kirlklees. In 2019, the same wards were contested as were in 2022, with only two additional wards holding ballots this time around (Durrington and Northbrook, accounting for 1,221 Tory voters, 1074 Labour voters, and 372 Lib Dem voters). In 2019, in the whole council election, Labour won 8,063 votes (31%), the Tories 9,499 (36.5%), and the Lib Dems 3,850 (14.8%). In 2022, the results looked like this: Labour, 15,201 (48.1%); Tories, 11,998 (35.5%), Lib Dems, 2,239 (6.6%). The same criticism as was levelled at the Kirklees result applies here.

Indeed, the same can be said of Southampton: Kier Starmer visited the city on 3rd May. In one of the 3 wards lost by the Tories directly to Labour, Swaythling, turnout did an almighty jump to 42.65% in 2022 from 29.08% in 2019. The vote share in 2022 was, Labour, 54.2%; Tory, 43.8%; Lib Dem, 2.1%. In 2019, when the exact same wards were contested, it was, Labour, 37.3%; Tory, 34.2%; Lib Dem. 12.6%. It’s clear that Southampton, like Worthing and Kirklees, were propaganda set-pieces for the message of Labour ascendency: a thing that is not in fact any sort of reality.

Indeed, there’s only one message that comes out of the local council elections, with Labour only managing to win 22 additional councillors in all of England, and the Tory losses (-336) in the main being replaced with Lib Dem gains (+194) and then gains from the Greens (+63), is that the Keir Starmer Project is absolutely reliant on a pact with the Lib Dems so that, in the “north”, an extra portion of the electorate can be dedicated to Labour, so that the Tories are not left standing as the taller party, and in the “south”, direct challenges can generally be mounted to diminish the Tories so that Labour can carve out any kind of majority – by the Lib Dems (Labour are not capable without a full-scale propaganda exercise, and not always by any means then).

Now, it’s absolutely not a coincidence that coming up in June are two engineered by-elections, one in Wakefield, and the other in Tiverton and Honiton, where this pact scenario as it provides the full national coverage as described above is being put to the test. There will be coverage in at least one FBEL article, coming soon.

Previously:

Parliament’s Growing Legitimacy Crisis: Don’t Vote In The Local Elections (link)

Please note, a placeholding article first appeared in this space on May 6th, and this piece has been written in piecemeal update towards a finalised version, date of publication as above.

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Displaying 2 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. bob says:

    what posesses anyone to vote to continue their own abuse and dismemberment in small town britain is anyone’s guess – maybe put it down to stupidity???

  2. Theguvnor says:

    The mules got my vote and probably yours!

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