This was meant to be the night that Labour painted the capital red. From Barnet to Hillingdon, via Wandsworth and Westminster, the political map of London was going to swing decisively towards Jeremy Corbyn’s party. Except, well, it just didn’t happen. And at the time of writing Labour has gained just one council – and that’s 200 miles to the south and west in Plymouth.
In reality, this has been a major failure in expectation management fromLabour. Even talking about taking Kensington and Chelsea, for example, was foolhardy. They created an environment in which not doing so is seen as some sort of defeat. It’s also been a failure in targeting of resources. By trying to win so many new boroughs in one go, in London at least they have failed to win any. Whilst the new ‘Momentum’ members of Labour are enthusiastic, they are not experienced campaigners and older heads have been warning for a while that such a broad-brush campaign approach would not yield success.
That’s not to say Labour have had a terrible night. They’ve got more Councillors than they’ve had before and they now have a stronger platform to challenge next time round. But they’ve underperformed their own stated targets, and as a result the happiest party leader today will be Theresa May. A few days ago there was talk that a terrible set of results might prompt a challenge to her leadership. Instead, the Conservatives end the night with about the same number of Councillors that they started with. The sense has been growing for some time that ‘peak Corbyn’ has passed and the Conservatives are now recovering from a difficult few years. Last night provided lots more evidence for that analysis.