Its safe to say the local elections did not go well for anyone who is even partly involved in delivering Brexit. The Tories at time of writing have lost nearly 1000 councillors while Labour and UKIP both also suffered losses. The winner were the Remain parties. The Liberal Democrats have gained 500 councillors and 10 councils with results still coming in, the Greens had a similarly successful night.
Many party members may want to spin this as a loss for the Tories and not for Labour but its a view that lacks governing ambition. We have made losses on our performance in 2015. In short the party has gone backwards from an election that occurred at the same time that the Tories delivered a majority. This is not the result a so called ‘government in waiting’ should be achieving. Labour need to rethink their strategy and fast. In the European elections they could face further losses.
A party simply should not be losing seats when in opposition. Brexit is plaguing Labour and they need to get it done and dusted so they can get back to their primary message of social justice.
The party has two options: Get a deal sorted with Theresa May and put this mess behind them, or go for a proper 2nd referendum approach. Should they do the latter they can be safe in the European elections, but longer term electoral consequences are more difficult to predict.
However, McDonnell and Corbyn have hinted they may rush to get a soft Brexit deal sorted now, and a Brexit that will not have disastrous economic consequences that they can be held accountable for later down the line. This could end the Brexit debate and get Labour back onto home turf, whether this deal would be their customs union approach or perhaps a softer Brexit resembling the Norway model. The latter model I once believed would be unacceptable to leavers but recently I have discovered this might not be the case.
Labour supporters have been hoping Brexit would destroy the Tories but they should be careful that Labour isn’t collateral damage.
There is some reason to be optimistic. Turnout was very low, which will hinder Labour who rely on younger, poorer voters who are less likely to vote but there is no guarantee voter apathy will decline for future European or general elections.