Take that Marks and Spencers...

A one-man consumer boycott, Tony Benn, Zac Goldsmith, the BBC cat and other issues...

We've got rather a lovely little spat underway here at newstatesman.com. It all stems from Sian Berry's reaction to the Conservative Party's Quality of Life review put together by Tory A-lister Zac Goldsmith and ex-cabinet minister John Gummer.

A few days after we posted Sian's blog Zac responded accusing her of not even reading the report.

Well NS blogger and Green Party London mayoral candidate wasn't taking that lying down and was soon tapping away at her keyboard. Why not have a read of her retort? Obviously I've offered ZG a right of reply so watch this space in case there are more developments....

Next I'd like to highlight the very welcome return of Simon Munnery. He's back and on first rate form pondering the role of the telly chef in modern Britain.

"Chefs always use 'the finest ingredients'. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t a great chef be able to create a decent meal out of mediocre ingredients? Where do chefs get off anyway taking the credit for food; they didn’t make it after all - they only heated it up, chopped it and slapped it on a plate," he writes.

This week we've also had fantastic contribution to our Faith Column from Onkar Ghate. He writes on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

Now, in the closing weeks of September parts of Britain erupt into something of a frenzy as the politicians return from their (very) long summer breaks and, presumably to recoup from time with their families, head to the seaside.

Actually the whole thing begins with the TUC sometime in September and finally ends in the first week of October with the Tories.

Well throughout all of this we've been running the New Statesman Conference Blog.

Next week Labour descends on Bournemouth so look out for a mixture of MPs, union members and activists in the coming days. Tony Benn kicks off our coverage on Sunday...

Finally, I had some extremely upsetting news this week. You may (or may not) have read my article in the mag on Pavarotti and how no-one slept in 1990. Well towards the end I cite Take That as one of the reasons the nineties didn't live up to their early promise.

Now I've just discovered that Marks and Spencer are to use the far from fabulous four in an advertising campaign so I'm afraid I shan't be able to shop there anymore.

Mind you I don't anticipate a huge downturn in M&S profits. I've been boycotting Crunchie bars for about 16 years - ever since the commercial featuring a peculiarly annoying chap wearing a ginger wig - and so far as I know the Cadbury company still flourishes.

Finally, viewers wanted to call the new Blue Peter cat 'Cookies'. The BBC fixed it so the animal was named Socks. Now heads have rolled and the corporation is making amends by getting a kitten that will be called Cookies. Oh the seamless art of PR.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Why Labour's dismal poll ratings won't harm Jeremy Corbyn's re-election chances

Members didn't vote for him on electoral grounds and believe his opponents would fare no better.

On the day of Theresa May's coronation as Conservative leader, a Labour MP texted me: "Can you imagine how big the Tory lead will be?!" We need imagine no more. An ICM poll yesterday gave the Tories a 16-point lead over Labour, their biggest since October 2009, while YouGov put them 12 ahead. The latter showed that 2.7 million people who voted for the opposition in 2015 believe that Theresa May would make a better prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn (she leads among all voters by 52-18).

One might expect these subterranean ratings to reduce Corbyn's chances of victory in the Labour leadership contest. But any effect is likely to be negligible. Corbyn was not elected last summer because members regarded him as best-placed to win a general election (polling showed Andy Burnham ahead on that front) but because his views aligned with theirs on austerity, immigration and foreign policy. Some explicitly stated that they regarded the next election as lost in advance and thought it better to devote themselves to the long-term task of movement building (a sentiment that current polling will only encourage). Their backing for Corbyn was not conditional on improved performance among the public. The surge in party membership from 200,000 last year to 515,000 is far more worthy of note. 

To the extent to which electoral considerations influence their judgement, Corbyn's supporters do not blame the Labour leader for his party's parlous position. He inherited an outfit that had lost two general elections, neither on a hard-left policy platform. From the start, Corbyn has been opposed by the majority of Labour MPs; the latest polls follow 81 per cent voting no confidence in him. It is this disunity, rather than Corbyn's leadership, that many members regard as the cause of the party's malady. Alongside this, data is cherry picked in order to paint a more rosy picture. It was widely claimed yesterday that Labour was polling level with the Tories until the challenge against Corbyn. In reality, the party has trailed by an average of eight points this year, only matching he Conservatives in a sole Survation survey.

But it is Labour's disunity, rather than Corbyn, that most members hold responsible. MPs contend that division is necessary to ensure the selection of a more electable figure. The problem for them is that members believe they would do little, if any, better. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that just 8 per cent believed Smith was "likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election", compared to 24 per cent for Corbyn.

The former shadow work and pensions secretary hopes to eradicate this gap as the campaign progresses. He has made the claim that he combines Corbyn's radicalism with superior electability his defining offer. But as Burnham's fate showed, being seen as a winner is no guarantee of success. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many fear that Smith would too willingly trade principle for power. As YouGov's Marcus Roberts told me: "One of the big reasons candidates like Tessa Jowell and Andy Burnham struggled last summer was that they put too much emphasis on winning. When you say 'winning' to the PLP they think of landslides. But when you say 'winning' to today's membership they often think it implies some kind of moral compromise." When Corbyn supporters hear the words "Labour government" many think first of the Iraq war, top-up fees and privatisation, rather than the minimum wage, tax credits and public sector investment.

It was the overwhelming desire for a break with the politics of New Labour that delivered Corbyn victory. It is the fear of its return that ensures his survival. The hitherto low-profile Smith was swiftly framed by his opponents as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly Pfizer's head of policy) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). His decision to make Trident renewal and patriotism dividing lines with Corbyn are unlikely to help him overcome this disadvantage (though he belatedly unveiled 20 left-wing policies this morning).

Short of Corbyn dramatically reneging on his life-long stances, it is hard to conceive of circumstances in which the current Labour selectorate would turn against him. For this reason, if you want to predict the outcome, the polls are not the place to look.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.