Labour set for easy win in Feltham byelection

Poll puts Labour 22 points ahead but there is bad news for Ken.

Ed Miliband's unbroken run of byelection victories (there have been four to date) looks set to continue. A poll by Michael Ashcroft for ConservativeHome puts Labour 22 points ahead of the second-placed Tories in Feltham and Heston with a 52 per cent share of the vote. This represents a six-point swing from the Tories to Labour since the general election, solid but nothing spectacular. As Ashcroft notes, in a by-election - "an easy opportunity for a cost-free anti-government protest vote" - Labour might have been expecting to do better.

More worryingly for Labour, the poll shows that Ken is still struggling against Boris. Even in what is a safe Labour seat, Boris, who is backed by 25 per cent of Labour voters and 33 per cent of Lib Dems, is a point ahead of Ken. This represents a significant drop in support for Livingstone, who outperformed Labour in 2000 (by seven points), 2004 (by eight points) and 2008 (by three points). The "Ken bonus" has turned into a "Ken deficit" of eight points. Until he wins over Boris's Labour supporters, there is little hope of him retaking City Hall.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.