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Think Jeremy Corbyn is untouchable among Labour activists? Think again

People are treating Jeremy Corbyn's supporters as a homogenous bloc, says Leo Barasi.

The resignation of four shadow ministers – one of them on live TV – would normally prompt speculation about a leadership challenge.

But Labour’s rules seem to protect Corbyn from attempts to unseat him. Even if MPs were to force another leadership election, it’s assumed that the membership would vote him straight back in, perhaps with an even greater majority. I’m not so sure though.

Those who think Corbyn can count on members’ support point to polls of those eligible to vote in leadership elections, which seem to show deep support for the new leader. The most recent, a Times/YouGov poll in November, found that 66 per cent think he’s doing well, compared with 30 per cent of the general public who said the same.

The explanation for this support among members, it’s argued by those who are baffled about how anyone can say he’s doing well, is that many Labour members prefer their party to be pure than to be in power. The same poll found a 24-point lead for those who prefer Labour to put forward policies they really believe in, even if that means being unelectable.

If that’s true, it may not matter how unpopular Corbyn is with the public. In fact, the worse Labour’s poll score becomes, the more popular he might become with some members who take the opprobrium as evidence that they finally have a ‘real’ Labour leader.

But this wrongly treats Corbyn voters as an undifferentiated block, when the reality is that many aren’t indifferent to his struggles.

During the leadership campaign, Corbyn’s supporters often argued not only that he would be authentic, but that he would be effective. They claimed that he would be a formidable opponent to the Tories and that he could win the next election.

Such views might spell trouble for the Labour leader. If Corbyn and his team are seen to be bad at doing politics, they let down those who counted on him to be effective as well as authentic.

It’s true that most of those who voted for Corbyn seem more concerned about having a leader they always agree with than one who can take Labour into government. But what may be crucial for a future leadership election is that this isn’t the case of everyone who voted Corbyn.

According to that poll of members, 71 per cent of Corbyn backers would prefer a pure, unelectable party to one that can win. But a quarter think otherwise. If those members went to another candidate, and the rest remained unchanged, Corbyn would no longer have a majority.

To be clear, I don’t think we’re at the point where Corbyn would lose a ballot of members, even if he were to face only one candidate who united the soft left and right of the party. Indeed, a challenge now might be disastrous for his opponents, as many members who are beginning to waver would feel he deserves more time. The latest poll also suggests that some members who didn’t vote for him currently think Corbyn’s doing well.

My point is that, over the coming months, being seen to be both an ineffective opponent of the Tories and unpopular with the public may well be enough for a substantial part of Corbyn’s leadership supporters to lose faith.

Despite unforced errors for which there’s no-one to blame but Corbyn and his team – not singing the national anthem and then not quickly explaining why; the U-turn on the fiscal charter; McDonnell’s Little Red Book moment – most members are still satisfied with the leadership (although the poll was conducted before the more recent mistakes).

But it’s hard to see things getting easier for Corbyn. The chaos of this week’s reshuffle suggests his team still haven’t got a grip. Labour’s current poll rating is the lowest after the first three months of any post-war leader, while support for Labour oppositions tends to fall between this stage in a parliament and the subsequent election.

If these mistakes continue and Labour’s poll rating doesn’t improve, to the point where it becomes unavoidable that the voters aren’t going to elect a Corbyn-led Labour party, some of those who backed Corbyn might begin to consider alternatives. Despite the size of Corbyn’s victory, it wouldn’t take that many switchers for a rival candidate to be viable. If this happens, the next mass resignation really might be the start of a leadership contest.



Leo Barasi writes about public opinion at Noise of the Crowd


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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.