Labour ‘confident but not complacent’ of a general election win as Brexit backers return to the party
Labour is “confident but not complacent” it will win a majority at next general election, the shadow health secretary said.
Wes Streeting said the party has made “enormous progress” since Sir Keir Starmer became leader in 2020, with the Ilford North MP saying that voters “who turned their backs on Labour” were “turning to Labour again”.
He also avoided discussing whether the party would go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats if it falls short of a majority at the next general election, saying confidently “we’re not even entertaining that prospect”.
His comments came as evidence mounted that the party is winning back swathes of pro-Brexit voters across the country in Thursday’s local elections. As the Tories faced a drubbing in Rishi Sunak’s first electoral test as prime minister, Labour made significant gains to become the largest party in local government.
The party took control of key councils including Stoke-on-Trent, seen as a test of the Labour leader’s ability to win in areas which backed Brexit in 2016. Based on the results, Labour also expects to win in the strongly Brexit-backing constituencies of Great Grimsby, Redditch and Burnley.
Figures seen by the Observer showed Labour’s support rose by seven points compared with 2021 in the most heavily pro-leave wards.
And a polling expert told The Independent that Brexit was becoming less of a factor in how people voted.
Martin Baxter, chief executive of Electoral Calculus, said: “It is not the case that leave voters are super attracted to Labour, but they are not as repelled by Labour as they were under Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.
“In 2019, Leave voters were actively repulsed from Labour, and that effect now seems to have faded.”
He said the removal of Brexit as a driving factor could lead to a windfall at the ballot box for Labour in the next general election. Mr Baxter said: “The Conservatives won in 2019 for four reasons: The charisma of Boris Johnson, the anti-charisma of Jeremy Corbyn, getting Brexit done and because the left of centre opposition parties were split.”
Of those, “three out of the four Conservative advantages have gone”, he added.
But while Mr Baxter said opposition to the party has eased under Sir Keir, he added that Leave voters are not necessarily enthusiastic Labour either.
Mr Streeting told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg: “Right across England in places where we need to win to form a majority, Labour is winning back support.
“And we are confident we can win a majority of the next election but not complacent.”
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer insisted the Conservatives are winning back support, adding that Labour and the Liberal Democrats “did not actually do as well as the polls have suggested”. She told the BBC: “When people see us delivering, then we will regain the trust of the British people.”
Mr Baxter previously told The Independent that there is a “narrow path to victory” for Rishi Sunak at the next election, but as things stand Labour is heading for “quite a big majority”.
In Thursday’s local elections, the Conservatives lost 1,064 seats – topping even the most pessimistic forecasts – and lost control of 49 councils.
Labour picked up 528 seats and taking control of 22 councils, while the Liberal Democrats saw their best result in decades. The party picked up 407 seats and took control of 12 councils, many of which were in Tory heartlands.
Sir Keir claimed the results show Labour is on course to form a majority government in an election expected next year.