Sir Keir Starmer has been adamant all weekend that Labor is on course for an outright majority on the back of last week’s local elections.
labor are quick to point to the gains in the battlegrounds – Medway, Swindon, Dover – and the dire performance of the Conservatives.
But ask any independent expert, including our own election guru Professor Michael Thrasherand they will tell you that Labour’s spin is not quite borne out by reality.
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Labor barely grew its vote share on comparable local elections, while Sir Keir is well behind where Tony Blair was in the 1995 local elections that preceded his 1997 landslide.
Seat gains were shared with the Lib Dems, who stormed the night, picking up hundreds of seats from the Tories and pulling back Sir Keir’s gains (real success meant seat gains of 700 or more, Labor came out at circa 550 gains).
Progress for sure, but on these results, Labor is on course to be the largest party in 2024 but short of an outright majority.
In our interview on Tuesday, Sir Keir all but admitted it.
Not in his remarks about the election results, in which he repeatedly told me that he believed Labor would win outright, but on how he handled the repeated questions on doing a deal with political rivals.
What was so fascinating in this interview is that Sir Keir has changed position: after the local elections a year ago, the Labor leader, ruled out doing any sort of deal – formal or informal – with either the SNP or the Lib Dems.
On Tuesday, that line had changed.
Sir Keir told me clearly that there were “no terms on which he would do a deal with the SNP” because Labor has a “fundamental difference” with Humza Yousaf’s party when it comes to Scottish independence.
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This is a narrative Labour’s top brass is determined to try to see off next year as Sir Keir looks to make real in-roads into the SNP territory in Scotland that will be key to a Labor victory.
But when it came to the Lib Dems, the Labor leader refused seven times to rule out an election deal.
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This surprised me, because it’s not the position he took a year ago when Bloomberg asked him if he might do some sort of deal with the Lib Dems if he found himself running a minority government and he replied: “I’m ruling out any arrangement “.
On Tuesday he simply kept repeating to me that he was “not answering hypotheticals” when it came to the Lib Dems (but was happy to do so when it came to the SNP).
So what’s going on?
Those close to him insist that the position hasn’t changed: Labor are still campaigning for a majority government and he won’t be doing any deals with the Lib Dems.
But it’s true, too, that Sir Keir might well fall short of that and have to do a deal of some sort with the Lib Dems to be able to form a minority government, propped up by Lib Dem votes or a more formal coalition like we saw in 2010 with the Tories and Lib Dems (although Sir Ed Davey is clear he won’t do a deal with the Tories in 2024).
This is a Labor leader desperate to win an outright majority but knows he might fall short and doesn’t want to box himself in.