I spent more time than is healthy this weekend talking to Labour members around the country, and I’m increasingly certain: the polls are right, the constituency Labour party (CLP) nominations are right: Jeremy Corbyn is on course to win the Labour leadership election.
Yes, Corbyn’s lead in CLP nominations – he has, at time of writing, 112 to Andy Burnham’s 103 – isn’t necessarily indicative of anything. It’s not binding on members, has no effect on the final outcome, and at times, the number of members in attendance is vanishingly small. At one contest there were just 25 ballots: nine for Jeremy Corbyn, eight for Andy Burnham, four for Yvette Cooper, and one simply reading “Fuck Kendall”.
But the future has a tendency to resemble the past – just look at the general election, when despite the cries that it was “different this time”, the party that won was the one people trusted with their money and with its finger on the nuclear button. David Miliband came top of the pile as far as CLP nominations were concerned last time and if Labour members had been the only voters he would have won the Labour leadership election.
While most members don’t attend CLP meetings, I can find no persuasive evidence – other than wishful thinking – that the Labour right is less likely to attend meetings than the left. The majority of CLPs that are nominating Corbyn now nominated one of the Miliband brothers. Rugby, which nominated Corbyn last week, nominated the older, “more right-wing” brother. The nominating members of Rugby, Ilford South, Amber Valley, and many more accurately picked the winner last time. I see no reason to suggest that these local parties have become less reflective of the party’s mood than they were five years ago.
Of course, polls have been wrong before. But crucially, the polls felt wrong before the fact. Labour’s poll lead was nowhere to be seen at the European elections, when they finished a limp second, or in the local elections, when they fell back in the marginals, foreshadowing the rout they’d suffer at the general election. Ashcroft constituency polls showed Labour in contention in seats where headquarters had long stopped funnelling resources. And every ordinary conversation about politics inevitably spun round to Miliband’s unsuitability as Prime Minister.
The polls don’t feel wrong this time. Defections from the three candidates of the right to Corbyn are being picked up by all three campaign’s phonebanks, and by the mayoral campaigns as well. At the hustings, which were bossed last time by the two Milibands, it is Corbyn who is getting wildly applauded. “The surge is real,” was the verdict of one staffer I spoke to this weekend.
Privately, none of the deputy campaigns expect that Corbyn will finish anything other than first in the race for the top spot. Volunteers return from phonebanking sessions, in the words of one “utterly convinced it will be Corbyn now”.
If anything, the pattern from local nominations supports what polling is showing – a bigger first round lead for Corbyn than implied by the CLP nominations. Labour’s preferential voting system is an active handicap to his campaign, as he has a far smaller pool of second preferences to draw on than any other candidate. In nomination meetings, Corbyn gets a handful of second preferences, matching YouGov polling showing just 20 per cent of Kendall supporters and only 31 per cent of Cooper supporters giving him their second preference in the run-off against Burnham.
At the general election, commentators had two choices: either the European, local and mayoral elections were wrong, or the polls were. In fact, even the polls hinted that they might be wrong – they consistently showed people saying they wanted David Cameron in Number 10 but would vote Labour in their own constituencies. This time, it’s far clearer: either the polls, the CLP nominations, the phonebanks, the local meetings and the hustings are all wrong, or Corbyn is going to win. It doesn’t look likely.