Why Labour can still take heart from the latest polls

The idea that Labour could win has been implanted in the public's mind.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1267519046219

Latest poll (Sun/YouGov): Conservatives 22 seats short of a majority.

It's a sign of how bad things have got for the Tories that the latest daily YouGov poll, showing the party's lead back up to 7 points, has caused such relief in Conservative circles. A few weeks ago that result, which puts us on course for a hung parliament, would have triggered much doubt and anxiety.

It's not surprising that the Tories have recovered ground after a more-than-competent spring conference and much favourable media coverage of David Cameron's speech.

According to Mike Smithson, the fieldwork for the poll started at 5pm on Sunday night and ended at 5pm last night, so it will also have captured some of the public reaction to Lord Ashcroft's decision to come out as a non-dom. My guess is that, regardless of its Byzantine complexity, the Ashcroft story will damage the Tories in future polls. The public will soon sense how at odds the whole affair is with Cameron's promise of an era of transparency and openness.

New Statesman poll of polls

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Labour 28 seats short of a majority.

More encouraging for Labour is the latest Independent/ComRes poll, which has the Tories ahead by only 5 points. It's the party's lowest lead in a ComRes poll since December 2008 and would leave Labour as the largest single party in a hung parliament.

Perhaps the most important effect of the past week's polling is that the idea that Labour could still win the election has been implanted firmly in the public's mind. Voters like to back a winner; they enjoy being able to say after the election that they supported the winning party. After the 1997 election, when asked who they had voted for, more people said they supported Labour than ever actually did.

The polls have also reaffirmed the government's own belief that it can and should win this election. Andrew Rawnsley recently made the astute point that this was hardly the case with the Tories. He wrote:

In the run-up to the 1997 election, when the Conservatives had been in power for a very long time, there were a lot of Tories who were ready to lose. They were fatalistically reconciled to defeat or exhausted with office or so consumed with hatred for each other that they'd rather go down than even make a pretence that they were united.

I don't believe this is the case with Labour. The coup attempt in January actually benefited Gordon Brown by resolving the leadership question once and for all.

Even if the Tory lead grows in the coming weeks, we can still expect this election to be competitive in a way few previously thought possible.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.