It would be very easy for Labour people to despair at the moment. This week’s local elections were abysmal for them, especially outside big cities. They have just become the first opposition ever to lose councillors in three elections running. Their poll ratings are absolutely abysmal. Their leader is one of the most unpopular in British polling history. The present General Election looks like very, very dangerous territory for them.
They have never entered a modern election from opposition in quite such bad shape. An average of results from all pollsters in the field finds them on 28 per cent, 18.4 per cent behind the Conservatives on 46.4 per cent. It is true that they lagged 14.8 per cent off Mrs Thatcher’s pace the month before their 1983 debacle: but at least then they were a little closer, while Labour’s polling average was a slightly healthier 32 per cent. Jeremy Corbyn’s personal ratings are not quite as bad as Michael Foot’s in 1982 and 1983 – at this stage of his leadership Foot’s stood at a staggering -54 per cent – but Corbyn’s net satisfaction ratings with Ipsos Mori are still an atrocious -35 per cent.
Labour is therefore braced for a very bad defeat. Most Labour supporters would take the loss of “only” thirty seats (and thus the party’s worst seats tally since 1945) as a blessed relief: the risk is that a campaign managed by Labour’s present leadership team could see the party implode altogether in the heat of a General Election maelstrom, and end up losing scores of seats. The newspapers are full of columnists speculating about the end of the Labour Party itself, at least as a UK-wide force that can fight and win across the country.
Historians, though, look at these passing crises rather differently: for in the long run it is hard to see Labour just fading away into irrelevance.