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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 editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide