The council elections in Wales were completely overshadowed by the impending general election which was called two weeks before. The mainstream media confidently predicted Labour losses in the local elections and a victory for the Theresa May in the general election but the Tories have not been forgiven for the damage they have done to Welsh working class communities. So there was a powerful mood to keep the Tories out and by and large Labour’s vote held up, despite the record of Welsh Labour councils in cutting councils services.
Labour held on in the cities but lost some seats in the valleys, not to the Tories, but to independent councillors. The Tories only won new seats in its traditional seats in Wales.
Given the media hype in support of the Tories, they actually did very poorly. In Swansea Labour increased its majority and retained control of Cardiff and Newport councils. There were losses in Bridgend and in Blaenau Gwent, but in most areas not to the Tories who only re-gained Monmouthshire council which covers the poshest area of Wales. The Tory vote in Cardiff was up but mainly at the expense of the Lib Dems, not much from Labour.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, one of Jeremey Corbyn’s harshest critics, declared on Radio 4 that Labour can hardly be celebrating retaining council seats in Wales, “one of its heartlands”. But the previous week she had confidently inferred that Wales would fall to the Tories while visiting Porthcawl as a part of Theresa May’s entourage. In fact the Tories were unable even to win back many areas that they have held in the past.
The mood amongst young people to support Jeremy Corbyn undoubtedly mobilised thousands to vote for Labour councillors, even though most of the Labour councillors are opposed to Corbyn. In Cathays ward in Cardiff with the highest student population in Wales Labour’s vote surged by 83% with 700 more votes than in 2012! Ironically two of the councillors who benefited from this Corbyn surge backed the coup against him last year.
This year the Welsh Labour government has soft-pedalled cutting council funding, allowing Labour councils to soften cuts. This will not continue for the next four years if a Tory government is re-elected. Labour’s gains in Swansea were partially down to the “feel-good factor” generated by the much-vaunted City Deal and the prospect of a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay, both of which have been promoted by the local media.
Labour is now two parties in one, with most of the Welsh MPs and councillors more concerned with preventing Corbyn winning even if it means the Tories being returned to attack working people. Many workers will be wondering on which side is the arch-Blairite MP for Aberavon, Stephen Kinnock, who could not wait to declare the local election results “disastrous” and blame Jeremy Corbyn, before realising that the results were not so bad. Kinnock then did a u-turn but proclaimed the leadership of Welsh Labour’s “fantastic first minister” Carwyn Jones as being responsible, neglecting to mention that it is in Carwyn’s own Bridgend back yard that Labour lost!
UKIP’s decline in Wales continues from the Assembly elections with its vote slipping towards the Tories in the cities and towards independents in the valleys. Plaid made some modest gains but no big breakthrough.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition stood 22 candidates in five councils to put forward an anti-austerity alternative to Labour councils that have been cutting services for the last five years. There was a very friendly response to TUSC’s message on the doorsteps where TUSC stood.
Nevertheless after May had called the general election, for understandable reasons many voters who were considering voting for TUSC decided to get behind Labour to support Corbyn or to keep the Tories out. Despite the general election being called, TUSC gained nearly 1600 votes and over 9% of voters in Townhill in Swansea and Llannon in Carmarthenshire with other creditable votes in Cardiff, Swansea, Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly.
These elections show the potential for Corbyn to overcome the hostile forces in the media and amongst Labour MPs. There is a lot of confusion over what Labour stands for but very little support for the Tories. If Corbyn’s Labour reaches out over the heads of the Blairites and fights on radical policies that can improve people’s lives he can regain votes in the valleys and the cities of Wales. A programme for a £10 minimum wage, abolition of zero hour contracts, a fully funded NHS, an end to cuts and renationalisation can win enthusiastic support. But the conservative tail of the Welsh Labour leaders must be shed.