Last week’s local elections in England were a bitter blow to the Conservatives. Although these elections did not cover major cities such as London, nearly 9,000 council seats in authorities throughout England were up for grabs. The Tories braced themselves for hundreds of losses. The actual results were far worse than expected.
Labour did not profit from the Tory slump. During the campaign some Labour pundits unwisely predicted major gains, buoyed, no doubt, by a recent national opinion poll that put Labour 10 points ahead of the Tories. Despite some key gains in the south however, Labour still came out an overall loser.
All in all the Tories lost 1,324 seats, UKIP lost 145 and Labour were 82 seats down. The major beneficiaries were the Liberal Democrats, who gained an extra 703 seats, and the Greens, who won 194. Residents’ associations won 49 more council seats and other independent groups chalked up over 600 gains. Overall, the vote share between Labour and the Tories was tied on 28 per cent each – suggesting that the next general election may produce a hung parliament.
Labour’s failure is clearly down to the party’s ambiguous position towards Brexit, which differs little from Mrs May’s withdrawal plan that would keep us in the European Union (EU) in all but name. Labour’s call to remain in the ‘single market’ and a ‘customs union’ with the rest of the EU reflects the views of Labour Remainer MPs and powerful unions that have long swallowed the Brussels line.
Some Labour MPs have taken up the call for a general election to break the deadlock in Parliament but without the support of a substantial number of rebel Tory MPs the Government cannot be brought down. Although some die-hard Tory Remainers would accept a Corbyn-led Labour government if that was the price for a second referendum, few Tories relish the thought of a snap election that could cost them their seats. Spinning out Brexit with endless extensions puts off the fateful day and gives the Remainers more time to win support for a ‘people’s vote’ to reverse the decision to leave.
But a second referendum needs parliamentary agreement. It’s a lengthy process that took seven months last time and it can only be passed if a majority of MPs endorse it. Mrs May cannot even get Cabinet agreement for a second referendum and she is unlikely to get anything agreed over Europe in this fractious parliament.
In the meantime the European Parliament elections will go-ahead. Those who bother to vote will have the dismal choice of the usual assembly of gravy-trainers, has-beens and dead-beats assembled by the major parties to fill their slates.
Nigel Farage, who parted company with UKIP in 2016, has risen like Lazarus from his grave to launch the ‘Brexit Party’ to contest these farcical elections. Although his slate includes the veteran campaigner George Galloway and a handful of former Trotskyites who have made their name in the bourgeois media, the Brexit Party is expected to reduce the argument against the EU to the single issue of immigration to sweep up disaffected Tories.
On the other side the Remainers will spout the usual Brussels nonsense about the European Union that they claim has benefited working people.
The European Parliament has become a byword for undemocratic practices, corruption, nepotism, waste and fraud on a massive scale. It doesn’t deserve the credibility of a vote at all. Boycott the EU elections! Stand by the people’s vote to leave the EU!