Could Labour win the election?

Tory lead falls to just 2 points.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1267355604099

Latest poll (Sunday Times/YouGov): Labour nine seats short of a majority.

"Gordon Brown on course to win election" is a headline almost no one would have expected to see at this stage of the electoral cycle. But today's YouGov poll confirms what a terrible start the Conservatives have made to their campaign. It puts the Tories on 37 per cent, just 2 points ahead of Labour, and the party's lowest lead since December 2008.

If the figures were repeated on a uniform swing at the election, Labour would emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament, nine seats short of an overall majority.

The poll is particularly alarming for the Tories for two reasons. First, it suggests that the potential number of Labour voters is far higher than previously thought.

Second, it suggests that the Tories suffer when their policies come under sustained scrutiny. Brown's call for voters to "take a second look at us, and a long, hard look at them" seems to have resonated with the media and the public.How else can we explain the Conservatives' precipitous decline?

New Statesman poll of polls

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Labour 28 seats short of a majority.

As I've pointed out before, the fragile nature of the economic recovery appears to be working in Brown's favour -- it strengthens his argument that immediate spending cuts would damage the economy and upsets the Tories' message. The poll also confirms that the bullying allegations against the PM have done no damage to Labour's support. It may be that the voters actually rather like being led by someone with a bit of a temper.

Brown will surely now be tempted to call an election while the political momentum is with Labour and go to the country in April. But I'd still be surprised if he doesn't plump for 6 May in order to avoid the cost of holding two separate elections.

As a word of caution to Labour optimists, it's worth pointing out that there's still almost no chance of Brown winning an overall majority. Boundary changes mean that Labour's 66-seat majority has fallen to a notional lead of 48. This leaves Cameron with only 24 seats to win to knock off Labour's overall advantage. I expect the Tories still to be leading in the key marginals.

But for Labour to emerge as the largest single party would be an astonishing turnaround. That the Tories are still struggling to defeat a government battered by recession and the expenses scandal is quite remarkable.

Can Cameron lead a successful Tory comeback? He has done so before, of course, in the run-up to the election-that-never was. We'll begin to find out later today.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The divisions within Labour

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change.

Labour is a party torn between its parliamentary and activist wings. Since Jeremy Corbyn, who this week appealed desperately for unity, was re-elected by a landslide last September, Labour has become the first opposition in 35 years to lose a ­by-election to the governing party and has continually trailed the Conservatives by a double-digit margin. Yet polling suggests that, were Mr Corbyn’s leadership challenged again, he would win by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, many of the party’s most gifted and experienced MPs refuse to serve on the front bench. In 2015 Mr Corbyn made the leadership ballot only with the aid of political opponents such as Margaret Beckett and Frank Field. Of the 36 MPs who nominated him, just 15 went on to vote for him.

Having hugely underestimated the strength of the Labour left once, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not do so again. In the contest that will follow Mr Corbyn’s eventual departure, the centrists could lock out potential successors such as the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Under Labour’s current rules, candidates require support from at least 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

This conundrum explains the attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters to reduce the threshold to 5 per cent. The “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make the ballot in 2007 and 2010) is being championed by the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Jon Lansman of Momentum, who is interviewed by Tanya Gold on page 34. “For 20 years the left was denied a voice,” he tweeted to the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, on 19 March. “We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, and we need our mass membership to win again.”

The passage of the amendment at this year’s Labour conference would aid Mr Lansman’s decades-long quest to bring the party under the full control of activists. MPs have already lost the third of the vote they held under the electoral college system. They face losing what little influence they retain.

No Labour leader has received less support from his MPs than Mr Corbyn. However, the amendment would enable the election of an even more unpopular figure. For this reason, it should be resolutely opposed. One should respect the motivation of the members and activists, yet Labour must remain a party capable of appealing to a majority of people, a party that is capable of winning elections.

Since it was founded, Labour has been an explicitly parliamentary party. As Clause One of its constitution states: “[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.” The absurdity of a leader opposed by as much as 95 per cent of his own MPs is incompatible with this mission. Those who do not enjoy the backing of their parliamentary colleagues will struggle to persuade the voters that they deserve their support.

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change. Rather than formalising this split, the party needs to overcome it – or prepare for one of the greatest defeats in its history.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution