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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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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