In the days following an election of any kind, one thing is guaranteed – we will hear posturing and pontification from every side, as everyone seeks to define the results in the way most favourable to them.
Last week’s local elections were no exception.
But it’s important that, if only for a moment after these fantastic results for Labour, we stop the spin, celebration and self-congratulation and pause for a moment of serious reflection because in a year (or maybe less) we have a general election we must win.
The stakes have never been higher.
Yes, I am overjoyed that Labour is the clear winner in these elections securing our position as the largest party in local government for the first time since 2002. We have won 22 new Labour councils, increasing our number of councillors by 536. And the route to Number 10 is paved by the local election results.
We have made important inroads into areas such as Dover, Bracknell Forest, Swindon, won back Stoke-on-Trent and more. We won seats not just in urban centres but in rural communities too.
Labour in town halls can make a massive difference, as we have in my own local authority of Brent. We turned the council into a London Living Wage employer, secured the London Borough of Culture, built over 1,000 new council homes, and invested £44m into Brent’s schools.
This makes a real difference to the lives of so many, but the only way we end the pain experienced by so many struggling with the cost of living, like having to decide whether they heat their home or eat, is to kick these Tories out of government once and for all.
During the campaign, I was knocking on doors in Deal, Kent reminding people to come out to vote. I admit that in the run-up to polling day, I was entirely sceptical as I travelled for hours across the country from Brent to the south-east coast to put in my shift.
But what I encountered in Deal was not, as some in the media would have us believe, old people angry about immigrants coming to our shores.
On the contrary, people were worried about the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS and other vital issues.
On the doorstep I found that people hated the Tory Government – time and again I was told that we need to get them out.
But there wasn’t as much enthusiasm for getting Labour in. And that’s what needs to change.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a decisive victory for the Labour Party.
And that victory is certainly testament to the hard work and dedication of the countless Labour activists and supporters across the country, who have worked tirelessly to counter the Tories’ politics of hate.
And while I am overjoyed by Labour’s local electoral victory, we need to temper that joy with a touch of realism. This result was by and large a verdict on over a decade of Tory government; on the endless corruption, lies and economic destruction they have inflicted upon us all.
But let’s not forget, the Lib Dems and Greens have also made significant gains.
This election result, great though it may be, does not appear to be a decisive endorsement of the Labour Party. It is not the people in their droves buying into our positive vision for the future and for love of our policy offering.
I don’t say this to pour scorn on our win, but because I want the Labour Party to be so much better, so that when the General Election does come around, we are on the best possible footing to win – because only in government can we deliver real change.
As Chair of London Parliamentary Labour Party, I am out every week talking to constituency parties across the capital, hearing from them what the wider party needs to do in order to win the next election.
And by and large what they tell me is mostly the same, and not surprising; they want clear policies that outline a positive vision. We need to give people hope because they can see how hopeless this Tory Government is.
What they don’t want to hear, week in and week out, is what prior manifesto pledge we are ditching.
Voters want to know how we will make their lives better, fix the economy, tackle the cost of living and ultimately create a fairer society.
That has always been Labour’s driving purpose – these are our values and why I’m a proud Labour MP.
People also don’t like personal attacks and negative campaigning.
The infamous campaign poster that said Rishi Sunak didn’t want those who sexually abuse children to go to jail was a mistake.
Labour should have focused on the vulnerable children damaged by this cruelty, not gone personal. Now the locals are over I feel able to say so.
I believe the politics of hope will always triumph against the politics of hate.
These results are fantastic, but if we are going to truly consign this rotten Tory Government to the dustbin of history, it is vital that we hold true to our values and show people exactly who we are and what we stand for.
We still have time to do this before the next General Election. Let’s put our head down and do the really hard work now and get ourselves on a proper campaign footing.
Unity isn’t just a word. No one votes for a disunited movement and if people in the party think that negative campaigning or freezing out the left is what won it, I’ll tell them to simply look at how well other parties did.
After the Tories’ abysmal record for 12 years, we could have done better.
So, let’s enjoy these results – but let me add a point of caution; don’t get carried away, we don’t have a general election win in the bag just yet.
And it’s a win that people all over the country need.