Another day, another cause for concern for the Labour Party. I must confess that I am actually tempted to create a category on my blog just for the party, considering the amount of time I have already dedicated to discussing its many woes.
As I detailed yesterday, the party is having a tough time of it. From a tedious leadership contest, bickering candidates, the dilemma of trying to appease both working mums and professional women who are not mothers, swerving between left and centre left so continuously that you wouldn’t want to drive behind them, and indecisive leadership – poor old Ms Harman – it would appear that Labour are the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Basically, the nightmare did not end on the night of the General Election results: it merely began, and today would suggest there is a long way to go yet before the nightmare is over.
The latest episode in the soap drama that is the current battle to determine the next Leader comes in the form of a poll which seemingly confirms the worst fears of the party: Corbyn looks set to claim the leadership crown. Corbyn rules the polls, and the party is in chaos as a result.
The Times splashed last night on their first edition of today’s newspaper, catching Labour unawares. This first edition appeared with a YouGov poll, marking the first public survey of the campaign. The results of which are proclaiming that old-school, left-wing Corbyn looks set to be on course to become the next Labour leader. The poll results suggest that Corbyn would beat the previous – and long-time heir apparent- frontrunner, Andy Burnham, by 53 percent to 47 percent in the final round of voting. Finally, according to a poll finding of first-preference votes, Corbyn is some 17 points out in front.
Of course, this is not the first poll to suggest that Corbyn is the frontrunner to win the leadership contest: as I discussed in the ‘Daily News Ponderings’ blog post from the 16th July, private polling suggested Corbyn was no longer the protest candidate. One survey gave Corbyn a lead of 15 points plus, whilst a second private poll put him on course to win after building up a ‘commanding position’. What was then described as a ‘shock lead’ has now become the expected lead, and Labour do not know how to respond. (I am actually reminded of a similar political situation currently ongoing in America: one Donald Trump is regularly topping the polls, meaning he looks set to be participating in live television debates, and the GOP are consequently terrified about the long-term damage to the party.)
Those polls covered by The New Statesman were privately conducted, whereas the YouGov survey is the first public survey, polling around 1,000 people who are entitled to vote in the leadership election on the 12th September. The results seem to confirms all the previous signs and complaints that Labour switched to the left under Ed Miliband. Furthermore, it appears that in an amusing twist of irony, his internal reforms to a one member, one vote system – put in place as a means to reduce the power of the unions and answer criticism that it the unions who chose the leader, not card-carrying members – has helped Corbyn. Speaking of unions, Corbyn is winning over all kinds of left activists, and has won the endorsement of Unite – Britain’s largest union – which is now signing up members so that they can exercise a vote in September.
Not too shabby a turn up, Mr Corbyn – after all, he had only been expected to finish distant fourth in the contest. Let’s not forget that he made it on to the ballot at the last-minute, after several MPs ‘lent’ their nominations.
It is clear that there are real fears within the Labour party that Corbyn’s radical left views could alienate moderate Labour voters. (Fears made all the more real when you consider how many moderates or ‘flirty’ voters switched to the Conservatives during the General Election.) The thought of Corbyn in charge brings back memories of Michael Foot’s leadership – a ‘blast from the past’ normally stirs nostalgia, but for Labour, remembering the heavy defeat under pure political theorist and academic Foot, this is something that must be avoided.
Should this not be a nightmare scenario enough, it also has cultivated new bitter splits within the party. The MPs who lent Corbyn their votes do not necessarily endorse him, or support his policies. And, following on from The Times’ splash on their YouGov poll, these MPs are now regretting their decision to help the left-winger scrape his way onto the ballot list as a means of ensuring great debate.
Ex-Labour Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has described herself as a ‘moron’ for nominating Corbyn, and went on to say in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One:
“If Jeremy had been a long way behind, I don’t think the thought of nominating him would have crossed my mind. But then when it looked as if he might almost be able to stand but then not be able to, I was concerned that people would feel that they had been deprived of the opportunity for their point of view to be aired.
“But yes, I’m beginning to wish that I hadn’t, to be quite honest about it.”
Translation: ‘I thought I would be helping the party appeal to the working class who turned against us at the recent General Election by nominating the fella, but now I realise that I unwittingly opened the Marxist’s equivalent to Pandora’s Box. Whoops.’
‘Moron’ seems to be the new keyword for Labour, following on from ‘aspiration’. (I would love to know what Lord Prescott would have to say about last week’s Budget split, yesterday’s Commons vote revolt and today’s YouGov poll.)
John McTernan, who had served as an advisor to Tony Blair during his time as Prime Minister, blames those MPs who lent Corbyn their votes for the ‘disastrous’ poll. He told BBC Two Newsnight:
“The moronic MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn to ‘have a debate’ need their heads felt. They should be ashamed of themselves. They’re morons.”
No translation needed for that one. (McTernan has written a piece for The Telegraph about Labour’s current problems. He knows how to pack a punch.)
As you can imagine, newspapers are having a field day with the YouGov poll results. The Indy happily seizes on Beckett’s branding of herself as ‘moronic’ and McTernan’s rant, and has complied a list of all 35 MPs who nominated Corbyn. My personal favourite from that list is knowing that Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham nominated for Corbyn – Cruddas has been tasked with leading an independent review into Labour’s election failure. Labour are lost in the political wilderness right now until 2020, but according to the man who swept the party to a landslide win in 1997, Labour could be out for longer should Corbyn win the leadership contest. Perhaps Cruddas likes leading independent reviews, specifically those regarding Labour’s losses, hence his vote for Corbyn.
For all the regrets and angry self-remonstrations, the damage is done. You cannot turn back time; Corbyn made the ballot. And now the people eligible to vote in September are apparently speaking: they are considering voting for a modern-day Michael Foot. Corbyn rules the polls, and Labour’s nightmare continues.
There are two points of potential optimism for the party to dwell on, however. The first borrows from the oft-quoted expression, ‘history repeats itself‘ and the second highlights an all-important word in today’s story: ‘poll‘.
1. ‘History repeats itself‘ – when not pleading with Labour voters to not vote for Corbyn in the September election, Anne Perkins raises an interesting point which I have been thinking, too. She draws a parallel between Labour’s current nightmare to the nightmare experienced by the Tories in the past. After Major lost to Blair in the late Nineties, the Tories split, and struggled to find a strong, unifying leader. Hague came first, who spoke from the soul of the party and put on a good show at the dispatch box, but lacked an eye for strategy. He was succeeded by a certain Iain Duncan Smith, who before he started to raid benefits and pensions represented the traditional Tories, but could not effectively woo the electorate. He was brought down by a coup, replaced by Michael Howard, before the party stumbled upon a relatively young and fresh political face – he who is now in his second term as Prime Minister of the UK.
Perkins seems to be suggesting that whilst Labour may suffer from painful teething problems, and ongoing leadership woes, eventually a leader that will bring Labour back to power will be discovered. (I’m wondering whether she compares Ed Miliband to IDS, or Howard. He was certainly not Cameron, in my opinion.)
But – sorry to burst the bubble of any hopeful Labour supporter – this optimistic look at history still does result in a negative outcome for Labour, which Perkins begrudgingly admits. Labour cannot truly afford to indulge in that kind of lengthy protracted crisis of leadership trouble over the next few years.This is not helped when Labour stalwarts openly admit they will encourage MPs to topple the next Labour leader, should they not perform. (My money would be on Mr Campbell’s success at plotting a coup, to be fair.)
Also, should Corbyn be elected in September, Labour’s plans to return to Downing Street could be delayed even longer, and lose grassroot support from Labour moderates in the process. A party can endure the struggles of winning back power, or winning back support – to attempt both simultaneously is a nightmare scenario. (But hey, Labour surely is used to sleepless nights at this rate.)
2. ‘Poll‘ – perhaps this could actually provide a moment of relief for Labour. Polls these days are not quite what they used to be and with good reason.
Remember how during the General Election campaign, we were continuously told that it was ‘too close to call’ and that there would be yet another hung Parliament? I don’t know how many times I had to explain what a ‘hung Parliament’ actually meant when I was questioned about it out in America. All wasted breath, really, when you realise that the current government is a Conservative one, with a slim majority – oh, and Labour were rendered virtually extinct in Scotland.
Pollsters of the world, unite: how could you have got it all so wrong?
Labour was not the only entity which has to do a fair bit of soul-searching. Whether it was ‘shy Tories’, ‘Lazy Labourites’ or simply a last-minute change of mind and heart when huddled in the voting booth – the polls were drastically in error, and now are treated with a good dose of cynicism and scrutiny. No longer can they be treated as being utterly accurate and reliable. So perhaps Labour can swallow hard at reading the The Times and every other newspapers’ coverage of the YouGov poll, but all the time wonder as to the accuracy of the poll.
But, there is another element to consider with polls and their findings – that of voting influence. Polls may no necessarily lie, but they convey the truth in a narrow sense of the word to prove that which those authorising the poll wish to believe. More to the point, poll results can influence voters to vote according to X or Y, depending on the findings and the given explanation.
So, whilst Labour can spin the above into their statements of the recent YouGov poll findings – only 1,000 asked, this can wake up those moderate voters, encourage voters to vote for someone other than Corbyn – in the hopes of escaping their nightmarish situation, it can spun against them. Corbyn can take the results, and state that this shows the ‘true’ Labour, the Labour as it should be, a party of the working-class, the underdogs, can be revived. And more to the point, the public, the Labour members, want it to be.
So Labour’s nightmare would continue – with Corbyn taking the leadership.
Regardless of which way to consider the situation, Labour is up in arms and the current trend of chaos looks set to continue. Dark horse Corbyn rules the polls, both private and public, and Labour takes another beating. It is going to be a long and gruelling battle for the soul of the party until September. And depending on the outcome, it may not end even then.