Winning here? Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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. He usually writes about politics. 

Getty
Show Hide image

In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser