1985. Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street. David Cameron was in the Bullingdon Club. Everton were league champions. And Jeremy Corbyn? Well, he was exactly where he is now, serving as MP for Islington.
1985 was also the last time the main Opposition Party failed to make gains in May’s annual Council elections, other than in years when they have coincided with a General Election. But that is the ‘achievement’ Jeremy Corbyn’s Party managed to pull off last night, with the loss of 27 seats across the country.
To be fair to the Labour leader, the number of losses is far fewer than the worst predictions, which suggested the Party needed to brace itself for in the region of 150 losses. And in that the iron rule of local elections is seen – its not about the results, its about the expectation management. In that, Corbyn’s critics perhaps overplayed their hand beforehand, allowing the results today to be seen as “better than expected.”
Beyond the headline losses, low turnouts in Labour areas bely the myth that Corbyn can reach parts of the electorate that others cannot. Whilst he certainly inspired tens of thousands to join the Labour Party, so far there is no evidence that he can motivate those that don’t usually vote towards the ballot box.
In Scotland, the misery continues for Labour. Whilst the SNP failed to win an overall majority (63 out of 129 seats) – as was universally expected – Labour falling into third place behind the Conservatives was the worst nightmare of the Party. To those that argued Labour lost Scotland in 2015 because they were not left-wing enough, they must now answer why 2016’s markedly leftist manifesto produced an even worse result than the more mainstream one of last year.
Even in Wales, which has been a Labour hegemony since devolution in 1999, the Party lost seats and now no longer has a majority in the Welsh Assembly. The story of the night there is the rise of UKIP, going from zero seats in the last Assembly to seven in the new one.
Some better news for Labour might be coming later today, with hopes high that Sadiq Khan will seize the London Mayoralty. But, even if he does so, it is unlikely to make any difference to those in the Party who will now argue that the Corbyn experiment has failed, and the party must return to the centre ground.
The reality is that his support amongst the membership remains strong. Whilst most MPs would drop him in a heartbeat, they know that Corbyn would likely win the leadership contest that would result. So whilst at one point the plan was for a leadership challenge this summer, it is now less clear whether that will go ahead. Despite what are some pretty terrible results for Labour, expectations were for even worse and Jeremy Corbyn looks like he’ll live to fight another day. He was around back in 1985, and at this rate he might still be standing in 2020.