The prospect of an organised leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn has receded following better-than-forecast local election results.
Supporters say he has confounded internal party critics and MPs with Labour “holding the line” in England in spite of attempts to set the bar artificially high by those wanting to declare failure.
The focus, according to Shadow Cabinet members, is now to consolidate and improve on the small improvement in Labour’s standing since the general election last year, with a major economic announcement to be made by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on May 21.
The local council results were followed by the launch by Corbyn of Labour’s campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union and the start of an internal debate on the party’s wider appeal to voters.
Critics of the leadership argue that the results, in which Labour took 31 per cent of the vote compared to the Tories’ 30 per cent, were a long way short of what the party should have won against a Government in disarray and insufficient to put the party on course to win the next general election., due in 2020.
Some say the party should have a clear 10-point lead over the Tories at this stage. But leadership supporters argue that a year ago Labour trailed the Tories by seven points and that Corbyn has been in post for just eight months.
Amid warnings of hundreds of Labour losses, the party lost 18 seats, 1 per cent of its total 1,326 compared to 48 seats for the Tories, 6 per cent of their total.
In the symbolic battle for London’s City Hall, Sadiq Khan beat Zac Goldsmith – and one of the most blatantly racist campaigns in modern British history – by a clear 14 points.
In Scotland, Labour fell to a historic low point, losing many of its heartland seats and underpinning fears that the party may be out of the main running at all levels for a generation at best.
In Wales, the party lost overall control of the Assembly and UKIP picked up seven seats from the proportional list.
Corbyn has accepted that Labour has much more to do to be within a chance of winning in 2020 but has urged colleagues to concentrate of developing policies and to target the Tories failures not rather than engage in internal squabbling. In what was portrayed as a split, Khan called for the party to reach out beyond its core support.
In a statement Corbyn said: “Let’s be clear. The results were mixed. We are not yet doing enough to win in 2020. This is only the first stage in our task of building a winning electoral majority, attracting voters from all other parties and mobilising those who have been turned off politics altogether.”
Meanwhile, John McDonnell dismissed as “barmy” and “ridiculous” a claim by the Daily Telegraph that he was seeking to replace Jeremy Corbyn.
McDonnell told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “I have waited most of political life for a socialist to be leader of the Labour Party and here he is and I am doing everything I can to support to him.”