Heading for the win? Photo: Getty Images
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I'm more convinced than ever that Jeremy Corbyn is going to win

The polls felt wrong at the general election. But nothing I've seen or heard suggests the polls showing Corbyn ahead are anything other than correct. 

I spent more time than is healthy this weekend talking to Labour members around the country, and I’m increasingly certain: the polls are right, the constituency Labour party (CLP) nominations are right: Jeremy Corbyn is on course to win the Labour leadership election.

Yes, Corbyn’s lead in CLP nominations – he has, at time of writing, 112 to Andy Burnham’s 103 – isn’t necessarily indicative of anything. It’s not binding on members, has no effect on the final outcome, and at times, the number of members in attendance is vanishingly small. At one contest there were just 25 ballots: nine for Jeremy Corbyn, eight for Andy Burnham, four for Yvette Cooper, and one simply reading “Fuck Kendall”.

But the future has a tendency to resemble the past – just look at the general election, when despite the cries that it was “different this time”, the party that won was the one people trusted with their money and with its finger on the nuclear button. David Miliband came top of the pile as far as CLP nominations were concerned last time and if Labour members had been the only voters he would have won the Labour leadership election.

While most members don’t attend CLP meetings, I can find no persuasive evidence – other than wishful thinking – that the Labour right is less likely to attend meetings than the left. The majority of CLPs that are nominating Corbyn now nominated one of the Miliband brothers. Rugby, which nominated Corbyn last week, nominated the older, “more right-wing” brother. The nominating members of Rugby, Ilford South, Amber Valley, and many more accurately picked the winner last time. I see no reason to suggest that these local parties have become less reflective of the party’s mood than they were five years ago.

Of course, polls have been wrong before. But crucially, the polls felt wrong before the fact. Labour’s poll lead was nowhere to be seen at the European elections, when they finished a limp second, or in the local elections, when they fell back in the marginals, foreshadowing the rout they’d suffer at the general election. Ashcroft constituency polls showed Labour in contention in seats where headquarters had long stopped funnelling resources. And every ordinary conversation about politics inevitably spun round to Miliband’s unsuitability as Prime Minister.

The polls don’t feel wrong this time. Defections from the three candidates of the right to Corbyn are being picked up by all three campaign’s phonebanks, and by the mayoral campaigns as well. At the hustings, which were bossed last time by the two Milibands, it is Corbyn who is getting wildly applauded. “The surge is real,” was the verdict of one staffer I spoke to this weekend.

Privately, none of the deputy campaigns expect that Corbyn will finish anything other than first in the race for the top spot. Volunteers return from phonebanking sessions, in the words of one “utterly convinced it will be Corbyn now”.

 If anything, the pattern from local nominations supports what polling is showing – a bigger first round lead for Corbyn than implied by the CLP nominations. Labour’s preferential voting system is an active handicap to his campaign, as he has a far smaller pool of second preferences to draw on than any other candidate.  In nomination meetings, Corbyn gets a handful of second preferences, matching YouGov polling showing just 20 per cent of Kendall supporters and only 31 per cent of Cooper supporters giving him their second preference in the run-off against Burnham.

At the general election, commentators had two choices: either the European, local and mayoral elections were wrong, or the polls were. In fact, even the polls hinted that they might be wrong – they consistently showed people saying they wanted David Cameron in Number 10 but would vote Labour in their own constituencies. This time, it’s far clearer: either the polls, the CLP nominations, the phonebanks, the local meetings and the hustings are all wrong, or Corbyn is going to win. It doesn’t look likely.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage