Britain’s Labour Party fared less badly overall than many had predicted in Thursday’s local and regional elections, suffering a humiliating loss in Scotland but clinging on to control of major cities in England. Its performance in areas with a strong Jewish population, however, was reportedly dismal, reflecting the ongoing row over anti-Semitic remarks by a string of its officials.
In Manchester, home to the secondlargest Jewish community in the UK, the party saw its support collapse in a key area, the Jewish Chronicle said. Local councilors blamed the defeat on the anti-Semitism row, with one from the heavily Jewish suburb of Prestwich calling the results a “backlash against the Labour Party.” Sedgley, the district that includes Prestwich, went from Labour to Conservative control in local government.
“It’s down to one person, and that’s Ken Livingstone,” councilor Alan Quinn said, according to the Chronicle. “He has caused grotesque offense to the Jewish population in Prestwich with his absolutely awful comments. Our councilors put their hearts and souls into representing the area and there really is no place in the Labour Party for bigots like Ken Livingstone.”
Former London mayor Livingstone, who was suspended from the party last week for saying Hitler once supported Zionism, repeated his remarks in an interview Wednesday, even calling the creation of Israel “a great catastrophe.”
There was a similar electoral outcome in Glasgow, where the Conservatives won from Labour the Scottish parliamentary seat of Eastwood. The area is home to more than half of Scotland’s Jewish population, the Jewish Chronicle said. Labour fared poorly across Scotland, where the pro-independence Scottish National Party secured a third term in government in the county’s parliamentary elections, but failed to secure a majority by only two seats. The Conservatives becoming the second party behind the Scottish National Party.
The elections were seen as a key test for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has condemned anti-Semitic comments from party members, and vowed to take action against it. But on Friday, yet another Labour councilor was suspended for remarks against Israel and Jews.
Corbyn acknowledged that the party had “a lot of building to do” in Scotland, but was pleased with results in England.
“We hung on and we grew support in a lot of places,” he said.
The most closely watched race is for mayor of London — an election that may give the capital its first Muslim leader. Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old Labour lawmaker, is the favorite to replace Conservative Boris Johnson, after a race marred by American-style negative campaigning and allegations of extremism and fear-mongering.
Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, a wealthy environmentalist, has described Khan as “dangerous” and accused his opponent of giving “platforms, oxygen and even cover” to Islamic extremists — a charge repeated by Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior Conservatives.
With about half the vote counted, Khan was leading. Final results were not expected until Friday evening.
A victory for Khan would offer a bit of gloss for Labour, which was pushed to third place in Scotland — where it was once dominant. The Conservative Party has become the main opposition — an unprecedented situation in a region that had shunned the party for decades because of the fury that resulted from economic policies under former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, which cost thousands of jobs in mining and heavy industries.
The results will do little to quell restive Labour lawmakers who think Corbyn’s left-wing policies are a turn-off for many voters.
“The Labour results in England are a mixed bag, but nowhere near as bad as some had been predicting,” said Matthew Ashton, a politics expert at Nottingham Trent University. He said that critics who want to “use the results as leverage to call for a leadership challenge are likely to be disappointed.”
“Their argument that Labour should be doing better, though, especially considering Conservative divisions over Europe in recent weeks, will continue to resonate,” he said.
In Wales, which has traditionally been pro-Europe, the anti-immigrant UK Independence Party gained seven seats in the Welsh Assembly, winning about 13 percent of the vote.
Andrew Blick, a constitutional expert at King’s College London, said the results underscore how difficult the referendum campaign will be — as attitudes nationally seem to be so complex.
“We don’t know where the mood is,” he said. “There are lots of different moods. What message do you push ahead with in the campaign when you have so many different opinions?”