The perils of prediction

Remember when Sky News reported that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leadership?

After 109 days of waiting, Labour finally gets a new leader today. Although the special conference opens at 4pm in Manchester, we're not expecting a result until around 4.40pm. The announcement will take this long because the results in each of the three sections (MPs/MEPs, party members and affiliated trade unionists) are explained separately. The candidate with the lowest vote will be eliminated and his or her voters redistributed until one candidate achieves 50 per cent of the vote in the electoral college.

Sky News's Jon Craig reports that Ed Miliband has won the big prize. He tweets: "It's Ed! A senior Labour Party figure tells me the younger brother has beaten David. Labour's Cameron? I'd say so."

I both hope and expect he's right (my prediction has always been that Ed will win on second preferences), but it's worth remembering that the same news organisation mistakenly reported that Alan Johnson had won the deputy leadership in 2007.

As Kevin Maguire recalls in his NS column this week:

Sky did a deal with Alan Johnson's enforcer, Gerry Sutcliffe, to receive a signal as the hopefuls left a briefing room before entering the hall - if Sutcliffe departed wearing glasses, Johnson had won. Reeling at a narrow defeat, Sutcliffe forgot and emerged four-eyed. So Sky News wrongly reported that Johnson had triumphed.

The ever-cautious BBC won't make such an error. Nick Robinson told the Today programme this morning that he "simply has no idea" who will win.

I'll be blogging on the leadership throughout today and my colleague James Macintyre will be reporting directly from Manchester. We'll bring you the result as soon as it's announced (we expect) at 4.40pm.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.