According to the House of Commons Library the breakdown in the number of councillors by party is as follows:
“As of elections in England in May 2016, the Conservatives have 8,709 (43 per cent) councillors in Great Britain, Labour 6,851 (34 per cent), the Liberal Democrats 1,822 (nine per cent) and Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party 596 (three per cent). There are a further 2,251 councillors in Great Britain who are either independents or members of other parties.”
It is, of course, abundantly clear that most Labour MPs would like Jeremy Corbyn to no longer be their leader. The views of the Labour councillors are less clear. The vast majority of the 6,851 have not not stated a view at all. Over 600 have called for him to go. They include all my Labour colleagues in Hammersmith and Fulham – including one who told me he voted for Corbyn. London generally is pretty strongly represented – lots of names from Lambeth, Ealing, Camden, Merton, Greenwich…even a couple from Islington.
But there has been retaliation with a rival missive. 240 have signed a pro Corbyn letter. They include Cllr Peter Chowney, the Leader of Hastings Council. Not that his Council seems to be undertaking the type of rebellion that Corbyn favoured in the 1980s. Cllr Chowney has justified cutting back the size of the Council’s workforce as “inevitable.”
Last year there were 230 Labour councillors who endorsed Corbyn. On that measure his nearest rival was Liz Kendall who was backed by 150.
In some ways these lists are rather unscientific. They partly reflect who is best organised at getting their supporters to sign up. But the level of organisation is an important measure.
The balance of opinion does not appear to have shifted dramatically. It may well be that Corbyn has the support of a minority of councillors – but it may also be that only a minority of them voted for him as Leader in the first place. The English council elections in May were very dull – with far more modest Labour losses than had been expected. Given the expectations, that will have calmed many Labour councillors. Hard-working councillors find it annoying to lose their seats due to the ebbing fortunes of their Party nationally. Yet it is not obvious that Corbyn will cause this to happen on the huge scale that might have been expected. So his position has not notably weakened in that respect. On the other hand, his allies in Momentum seem to have made only modest progress with deselections so Corbyn’s base of support has not been built up either. In the past, Trotskyist infiltrators would show infinite patience in sitting through Labour Party branch meetings of the greatest tedium. The £3-a-pop Corbynistas don’t appear to have the same commitment.
What of the implications for local government if Labour splits in two? Names of Labour councillors from Birmingham, for example, appear on both lists. Indeed one pro-Corbyn Labour councillor has complained about her name being on the anti-Corbyn letter. If Labour splits then which Labour Party will be in charge in Birmingham – and if they run candidates against each other will either Labour party be able to hold on? It would be good for democracy if there is a split and it results in the end of the one party states (or virtual one Party states) currently operating in Manchester, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sandwell, and Newham.
Labour councillors worried about losing under Corbyn might find winning under the banner of a new party even harder.