The will-they-won’t-they saga of a potential deal with the EU has meant that Boris Johnson is front and centre in every headline at the moment. But there is another storyline in the British politics soap opera, and it is just as significant as the manoeuvres of our Prime Minister.
This storyline is, of course, the Labour Party. For weeks now, the official Opposition have been refusing to agree to a General Election, which is an unprecedented move in the history of Westminster. To be fair to Corbyn and co, part of this reasoning made sense initially. Why call an election when losing could result in a no deal Brexit on October 31? But now, given the passage of the Benn Act, this risk has largely diminished, and is it becoming clear that blocking a no deal Brexit was only ever part of the story. The other reason Labour have been reluctant to agree to an election is because they are unpopular. Very unpopular.
Field has conducted a deep dive into local by-election results over the last few months and the picture is bleak for Labour. We should start with the disclaimer that of course, individual council by-elections are not normally a great indicator of national political trends. They give a small sample size of a particular area, and often depend on local issues that cannot be generalised to the country. But the results we found were just astounding. Over the last three months, Labour have contested 34 local by-elections and their vote share is down in 32 of them. This is true from Liverpool to Fulham to Aberdeen to Three Bridges. Whoever they are against and wherever they are, Labour are losing votes every week.
The vote is also not going in a uniform direction. The main beneficiaries of Labour’s decline seems to be Lib Dems, but the Tories have benefited too, as votes bleed in all directions. Most worryingly of all for Labour, these swings are taking place in the heartlands: places like Hull where Labour are down 20%, Coventry where they are down 16%, and Liverpool where they are down 17%. Overall the average fall in vote share for Labour in these 34 by-elections is just under 9%. That is significant.
Most people might not have noticed this nationwide trend but one person who almost certainly has is Jeremy Corbyn, and he is rightly scared. For two years, Labour have attempted to ride the momentum of an impressive General Election performance to convince the country that they could go one step further and become the Government. But the polling evidence does not support this view, and now, a colossal list of local election results backs this up too.
Speculation has been rife about if the end may be near for Boris Johnson. Surely, the same conversation needs to be had about Jeremy Corbyn.