Populus poll shows effects of Labour coup attempt. Or does it?

The party loses 2 points as the Tories gain 1, but support for Brown has increased

The Times has published its monthly Populus poll, taken over the weekend. The headline figures were 28 per cent for Labour, 41 per cent for the Tories and 19 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.

This is 2 points down for Labour and 3 points up for the Tories on the last Populus poll, in early December, and appears to show that the plot against Gordon Brown by Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon has damaged Labour in the eyes of voters. It follows an ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend that gave Labour 30 per cent and the Conservatives 40 per cent, reported with the headline: "Week of bungled plots boosts Labour in poll".

It is possible that the Telegraph poll was simply taken too soon after the event to show the ripple effect, but it's also worth noting that the Telegraph/Times polls display results within 2 points of each other, despite their totally different interpretations of events (the Times poll is headlined "Poll shows failed coup hit Labour hopes hard"). The electorate is still lukewarm, and the press apparently divided on how to portray voters' reaction to the latest developments in Westminster.

Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting points out that the Populus poll is especially interesting, as it is "the pollster that has tended to produce the best numbers for the [Labour] party and the lowest for the Tories".

The poll also shows that support for Brown has actually been bolstered. Forty-one per cent of general voters believe that he is the best leader for Labour at present, up 8 points since last September. Among Labour supporters, the figure was up 9 points to 71 per cent.

Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report attributes this to "sympathy", but, as my colleagues have repeatedly argued here, it may have a lot more to do with the timing (so close to the general election), and -- vitally -- the absence of a clear successor to Brown for rebels to gather around.

This is supported by further evidence from the poll. While 12 per cent said they could think of another Labour politician who would make a better leader, nearly half of this group said, when pressed, that they didn't know who, or couldn't remember.

Labour pundits should also take note that while David Cameron continues to lead overall, 50 per cent of people said that he was on the side of the rich over ordinary people, while 42 per cent disagreed. This shows that the "class war" strategy, though it sounds crude when put in those terms, could still be effective. Issues of fairness, such as inheritance tax, remain the Achilles heel of the Tories, and Labour would do well to capitalise upon this.

Meanwhile, 64 per cent said that Brown was on the side of ordinary people, with just 26 per cent saying he was for the rich. The improvement was primarily among unskilled working-class voters, showing that, despite the horror of Peter Mandelson, among others, at the prospect of appealing too heavily to Labour's core vote, it might not be such a bad idea. As Rachel Sylvester points out in the Times today, while such voters alone might not make enough of a difference to win the election, it will not help Labour if they stay at home or vote BNP.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses