Labour members have a better instinct for picking winners than Labour MPs. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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 special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.