On 6 May across the UK Labour faces not only its first electoral test since the defeat in the 2019 election, but a major test on a number of fronts.
There are Scottish Parliamentary elections, Welsh Assembly elections, A number of Mayoral Elections, a London Assembly election, and elections across 143 councils that cover the majority of England, with maybe 5,000 seats up for grabs. On the same day there is also a parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool.
Many on the Labour left, for instance Novara Media, Skwawkbox, and TribuneM, expect Labour to do disastrously. Their message is echoed across much of the social media networks the Corbyn-supporting left built. Many on the left seem to hope that Labour under Keir Starmer being humiliated at the polls could somehow pave the way to a left revival.
This is an understandable response, on a certain level, to Starmer's move to the right, expulsions and general wretchedness.
One of the major problems with it, though, is that most politically-conscious and organised working class voters at least in England and Wales see Labour with all its faults as the actual existing labour movement expression in politics, and, much like bureaucratised unions, a shield against the hegemonic nationalist authoritarianism and right populism of Boris Johnsons government. Left-wingers who appear blasé at the Tories gaining at Labour's expense are fundamentally unserious and will alienate themselves from many working-class people at the sharp end of this governments assault.
However, beyond that schadenfreude there are some reasons to expect Labour to do badly. Covid-19 pandemic will depress turnout which tends to help Tories. Due to Covid, campaigning has been limited, with little door-to-door canvassing. Many left Labour activists have boycotted the campaign in protest at Starmer's right ward lurch. Others are just not enthused enough to turn out.
Incumbent Labour councils, despite a lot of vital work done during the pandemic, are continuing to pass on the Tories' cuts in Local Government grants in the form of cuts in services, job losses, and council tax rises. Polls are to be approached with extreme caution, but they are also not good for Labour. The Tories are still on about 43-44 %, and Labour is varying between 33% and 38%.
However if you actually look not at the polls but the actual electoral contests its likely that the results of the election will be mixed and include enough victories to stave off a leadership crisis in Labour.
Scotland and Wales
The electoral landscape in Scotland is very different. The hegemonic party is the SNP and the national question dominates politics. Labour, once the dominant party in Scotland, limped home third behind the SNP and Tories in the 2016 Holyrood elections. The polls suggest that in terms of percentage of the vote and seats Labour could do even worse in these elections.
However due to the unpopularity of Boris Johnson and Brexit in Scotland, it looks possible Labour could technically come second thus getting to form the official opposition. If that happens it will be dressed up as a victory of some sort, even when it's not.
In Wales Labour lead a minority government. The opinion polls suggest Labour are likely to match their result from 2016 and may slightly improve upon it.
London and the mayoral elctions
In the Mayoral elections results will be mixed. The incumbent Tory Mayors of the West Midlands and Teeside seem likely to increase their vote significantly. But it's also likely that in both London and Manchester Mayoral elections the Labour incumbents will win handsomely and the Tories will do worse than before.
In the newly created West Yorkshire Mayor role Tracy Brabin looks likely to win for Labour. Labour may lose some ground in the London Assembly elections to the Green Party and others, but no one is expecting anything but Labour winning that election.
English local elections
The 2021 English local election will be mainly in seats last contested in 2016 and 2017 local elections. In the 2016 local elections Labour just about held their own whilst still losing council seats. The 2017 local elections, held soon before the 2017 general election when the Tories were still riding relatively high, were pretty disastrous for Labour.
Election Maps calculate that the Tories would need to lead Labour by more than 9.7 % in the election to actually win seats. Anything less then that and Labour wins seats. Some polls are putting the Tory lead at 10% or 11% which would lead to a modest gain in seats for the Tories and an absolutely dire results for Labour. Others show the lead at about 3 or 4 %. If the outcome lies somewhere in the middle, a modest gain of seats is likely.
In thousands of local battles, independents, regional parties, and minor parties play a role. There does appear to be a rise in so-called independents affecting both parties. In terms of local authorities, Labour may make gains overall and yet lose their majorities in places like Hull and Rotherham. There might be even bigger scalps, like Leeds. Meanwhile in the South of England, Labour might also deprive the Tories of their majorities on major county and municipal councils.
The hardest test for Labour is the Hartlepool by-election. Labour won Hartlepool in 2019, but the combined Tory and Brexit Party vote there dwarfed the Labour vote. In all likelihood the Tories will win this seat. Even so, Labour's actual percentage of the vote may rise.
Such an outcome would reflect an uncomfortable truth. By seizing on the carnival of reaction unleashed by Brexit Boris Johnson has managed to cohere a solid "historic bloc" behind his authoritarian nationalism. This block includes a much bigger section of the working class than the Tories ever could win under Cameron.
The socialist movement needs to face up to this truth. Our problems run deeper than who is the leader of the Labour Party. The problem of authoritarian nationalism is faced by socialists in Italy, France, Brazil, the US and India. Those countries also suggest how key struggles both on the streets and workplace can begin to turn this around.