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Jeremy Corbyn "on course to come top" in the Labour leadership election

Private polling, seen by the New Statesman, shows the veteran leftwinger ahead in the first round of voting. 

Private polling shows Jeremy Corbyn ahead in the first round of voting, a survey seen by the New Statesman has revealed. 

The veteran leftwinger has surprised observers by collecting 40 nominations from local parties, just eight less than the bookmakers' favourite, Andy Burnham. Yvette Cooper has 30. Liz Kendall is way back in fourth place with just five.

But the pattern of nominations actually underestimates Corbyn's strength among the membership if two seperate polls are to be believed. The surveys, conducted on behalf of Corbyn's opponents, are bleak news for Corbyn's rivals.

If vote share and constituency nominations mirrored each other, Burnham would be ahead of the pack with 39 per cent, Corbyn would be second with 33 per cent, Cooper third with 25 per cent, and Kendall fourth with four per cent. However, it appears that Labour's preferential voting system - used both for the final contest and to nominate by local parties - is masking Corbyn's strength in the first round. One survey has Corbyn ahead by more than 15 points. Another puts him in what one campaign staffer called "a commanding position...he is on course to win".

It appears as if the Islington North MP's strength is largely coming from new and younger members. One CLP chair believes that "more than two thirds" of new recruits since the election are supporters of Corbyn, a finding mirrored by the leadership campaigns' experience of phoning new members. It also appears as if many members from the party's right have abandoned the party during the years of Ed Miliband, being replaced by what one staffer describes as "true believers". 

There is now a conversation about what can be done to prevent a Corbyn victory. Some senior Labour MPs believe that respected grandees from the Miliband era and the party's "soft left" must come out against a Corbyn victory to prevent the worst happening. But given the hostile response to Harriet Harman's coded warning to "think not who you like and who makes you feel comfortable - think who actually will be able to reach out to the public and actually listen to the public and give them confidence", interpreted as an "anyone but Corbyn" call, that may prove ineffective.

Update 15/07/2015 17:50:

The Burnham campaign has been in touch. They say that they are unaware of any such polling and that the findings don't stack with their phonebank data. They believe they have a chance of winning in the first round and will soon have amassed the support of 50 CLPs. 

Update 15/07/2015 18:04

Toby Perkins, Liz Kendall's campaign manager, has released a statement: "These reports suggest Labour members realise that carrying on with a continuity leader will result in another defeat - the question is what kind of change Labour will embrace." "Voters in Labour's leadership contest face straight choice between changing to win with Liz Kendall or marching into a 1980s-style wilderness with Jeremy Corbyn. We are confident that the majority of members will want to put their values into practice with a Labour government not continue as a party of protest." 

Update 15/07/2015 21:01 

Statement from Team Cooper: 

"This does not reflect data gathered by our campaign team, which shows Yvette has strong support across all nations and regions. The response to Yvette's message that we must reach out and connect with voters in all corners of the country has been extremely positive and has resonated with party members, who want Labour to win again in 2020. Conflating CLP nomination numbers and unseen private polling - briefed by individual camps - might be good for something. What it clearly isn't is any sort of meaningful indicator of what the outcome of this election will be."

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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Where Labour has no chance, hold your nose and vote Lib Dem

May's gamble, MacKenzie's obsession and Wisden obituaries - Peter Wilby's First Thoughts.

In 2007 Gordon Brown allowed rumours to circulate that he would call an early general election for the spring of 2008. When he failed to do so, he was considered a coward and a ditherer and never recovered. Theresa May has tried a different strategy. After firmly denying that she would call an early election and killing off speculation about one, she suddenly announced an election after all. Will this work better for her than the opposite worked for Brown?

The Prime Minister risks being seen as a liar and an opportunist. Her demand for “unity” at Westminster is alarming, because it suggests that there is no role for opposition parties on the most important issue of the day. If Labour and the Lib Dems are smart enough to co-operate sufficiently to rally the country against what looks like an attempt to instal an authoritarian, right-wing Tory regime, May, even if she wins the election, could find herself weakened, not strengthened. I never thought I would write this but, in constituencies where Labour has no chance, its supporters should hold their noses and vote Lib Dem.

Taken for granted

I wonder if May, before she took her decision, looked at the precedents of prime ministers who called unnecessary elections when they already had comfortable parliamentary majorities. In 1974, after three and a half years in office, Edward Heath, with a Tory majority of 30, called a “Who runs Britain?” election during a prolonged dispute with the miners. He lost. In 1923, Stanley Baldwin, a new Tory leader sitting on a majority of 75 obtained by his predecessor just a year earlier, called an election because he wished to introduce tariffs, an issue strikingly similar to the one raised by Brexit. He also lost. The lesson, I think (and hope), is that prime ministers take the electorate for granted at their peril.

China’s long game

Commentators compare the crisis ­involving North Korea and the US with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It doesn’t feel that way to me. For several days that year, nuclear war seemed, to my 17-year-old mind, all but inevitable. I went to the cinema one afternoon and felt surprise when I emerged three hours later to find the world – or, at least, the city of Leicester – going about its business as normal. Two nuclear powers were in direct confrontation. The US threatened to invade communist Cuba to remove Soviet missiles and blockaded the island to prevent deliveries of more weapons. Soviet ships sailed towards the US navy. It wasn’t easy to imagine a compromise, or who would broker one. Nobody doubted that the two sides’ weapons would work. The Soviet Union had carried out nearly 200 nuclear tests. North Korea has claimed just five.

For all the talk of intercontinental missiles, North Korea at present isn’t a credible threat to anybody except possibly its neighbours, and certainly not to the US or Britain. It is in no sense a geopolitical or economic rival to the US. Donald Trump, who, like everybody else, finds the Middle East infernally complicated, is looking for an easy, short-term victory. The Chinese will probably arrange one for him. With 3,500 years of civilisation behind them, they are accustomed to playing the long game.

Mussel pains

Whenever I read Kelvin MacKenzie’s columns in the Sun, I find him complaining about the size of mussels served by the Loch Fyne chain, a subject on which he happens to be right, though one wonders why he doesn’t just order something else. Otherwise, he writes badly and unfunnily, often aiming abuse at vulnerable people such as benefit claimants. It’s a new departure, however, to insult someone because they were on the receiving end of what MacKenzie calls “a nasty right-hander”, apparently unprovoked, in a Liverpool nightclub. He called the victim, the Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, “one of our dimmest footballers” and likened him to “a gorilla at the zoo”.
The paper has suspended MacKenzie, a former Sun editor, and Merseyside Police is investigating him for racism, though he claims he didn’t know of Barkley’s ancestry.

Several commentators express amazement that Sun editors allowed such tripe to be published. It was not, I think, a mistake. Britain has no equivalent of America’s successful alt-right Breitbart website, disruptively flinging insults at all and sundry and testing the boundaries of what it calls “political correctness”, because our alt right is already established in the Sun, Express and Mail. To defend their position, those papers will continue to be as nasty as it takes.

Over and out

Easter is the time to read the cricket annual Wisden and, as usual, I turn first to the obituaries. Unlike newspaper obituaries, they record failures as well as successes – those who managed just a few undistinguished performances in first-class cricket and, most poignantly, some who promised much but died early. We learn of a 22-year-old Indian who, during demonstrations against the alleged molestation of a schoolgirl, was shot dead by police and whose grieving mother (invoking the name of one of India’s greatest batsmen) cried, “Bring my Gavaskar back!” In England, two young men drowned, having played one first-class match each, and a 22-year-old Sussex fast bowler, described as “roguish” and “enormously popular”, fell off a roof while celebrating New Year with friends in Scotland. In South Africa, a young batsman was among five municipal employees killed when their truck crashed; the local mayor fled the funeral as his workmates “chanted menacingly” about unpaid wages.

Among the better-known deaths is that of Martin Crowe, probably New Zealand’s best batsman. In a Test match, he once got out on 299 and reckoned the near-miss contributed to the cancer that killed him at 53. “It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh,” he said. Cricket can do that kind of thing to you. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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