Labour members have a better instinct for picking winners than Labour MPs. Photo: Getty Images
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Seriously, could Jeremy Corbyn win?

The endorsement of Unite, tumbling odds with the bookmakers, and now second place among local parties all raise the same question - could Jeremy Corbyn really win?

Could Jeremy Corbyn actually win the Labour leadership? Over the last week, he’s secured the endorsement of Britain’s largest trade union Unite, and, is currently second in our rolling list of constituency nominations, with 19 nominations, just eight behind the bookmakers’ frontrunner, Andy Burnham, and ahead of Yvette Cooper, who is widely believed in Labour circles to be the most likely winner. William Hill, the bookmakers, have slashed his odds to 7/1, almost equal with Kendall, currently fourth place in our list of nominations.

Can Corbyn do it?

Well, it’s possible. Since Labour party activists were first given a direct say in electing the party leader, they have, variously, backed Tony Blair, David Miliband and Jim Murphy by large margins. The older Miliband got 55 per cent of the vote among party members, while Murphy and Blair both got 64 per cent and 65 per cent in the first round of voting.

You can say a lot about those three men, but you can’t really call any of them Bennites.  Just one candidate from the Labour left has won an election among party members, in fact: Ken Livingstone, who polled 60 per cent of the vote from members in 2000 and did even better in 2012, with 64 per cent. And that’s not because Labour members in the capital are to the left of the rest of the membership: they backed David Miliband by a bigger margin than the rest of the country.

“One thing people forget about Labour members,” a Kendallite MP told me recently, “is they hate losing. Hate it a lot more than the PLP, actually.” Another insider notes: “The membership voted for Ken Livingstone, an election winner, when the PLP were playing silly buggers. They voted for David Miliband when the trade unions fixed it for Ed.”

Although the other three candidates disagree about what Labour’s leader has to do to win, they are all pitching themselves to Labour members as candidates who can win an election.

Don't forget, either, that these nomination meetings hold no real force. They're more likely to attract ultras: and, almost by definition, Labour's left are more committed than activists from the centre or right of the party. 

But what if it’s different this time? The success of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the SNP north of the border might have convinced Labour activists that victory lies to the left, no the centre. The defeat of the Scottish Labour party, with a centrist candidate in the shape of Murphy, might have changed the party’s perception of what “a winner” looks like.  

As I’ve written before, Corbyn is the candidate best-placed to benefit from Labour’s new electoral system – he has the greatest ability to reach outside of the Labour movement, in his case to the broad left.  His campaign is also being run by Simon Fletcher, a veteran from Ken Livingstone’s bid for the mayoral nomination in 2000: that one-off triumph for a candidate from the party’s left.

It doesn’t, to me, feel likely that Corbyn will triumph in September. But his odds look good enough to me that I regret not putting a fiver on him when the bookmakers were offering odds of 100 to one.

 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics. 

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.