Labour and the Tories neck and neck on 37%

Labour draws level with the Conservatives for the first time since October 2007.

You might expect Labour, with no permanent leader in place, to be lagging in the polls. But the latest Guardian/ICM poll shows quite the reverse. The poll puts Labour neck and neck with the Tories on 37 per cent, the first time an ICM poll has shown the two parties drawing level since the phantom election of October 2007.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Guardian's report almost entirely ignores this finding, focusing instead on news that 44 per cent belive the coalition is doing a good job in securing economic recovery, against 37 per cent who believe it's doing a bad job. However, it is hardly surprising that voters are in wait-and-see mode on the economy, not least because the VAT rise and those 25 per cent cuts are still to come.

New Statesman Poll of Polls


Hung parliament: Conservatives 20 seats short.

With some cabinet ministers such as Chris Huhne convinced that the cuts will make the coalition deeply unpopular, it must be troubling to see a leaderless Labour Party drawing level with the government. Labour havng avoided a collapse in support means that Simon Hughes can plausibly claim, as he has done in a BBC interview, that a progressive coalition after the next election is still "on the agenda".

There's better news for the Tories in the daily YouGov/Sun tracker, which puts them on 42 per cent, with Labour on 37 per cent and the Lib Dems on 14 per cent. But based on either poll, it looks like the next Labour leader will be in a far stronger position than many originally expected.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.