Last Thursday, Jon Trickett addressed Labour’s twice-weekly spads meeting: the gathering of Shadow Cabinet staffers where the leader’s office plans and strategy are communicated to the rest of the party’s backroom staff. “We are are aiming to be a transformative Labour government,” he told them. Elsewhere, Peter Dowd, the shadow chief secretary, is conducting a review of government spending. A series of conferences and seminars on how public ownership should work are planned to put meat on the bones of the nationalization agenda.
All this by way of saying: the Labour leadership is worried about many things, but the polls ain’t one.
There are Corbynsceptics who regard the poll deadlock as a sign that the last election was a contest in which the Conservatives did everything to lose and still, just about, won, and that, absent a Tory leader as maladroit as Theresa May, Labour is destined to lose the next election. However, that isn’t a view that has any particular purchase at the top of the party.
Instead, there are two schools of thought as far as the polls go. The first – which is also well-represented in Corbynsceptic circles – is that the polls got Labour’s poll share wrong in 2015 and 2017, and that worrying about headline voting intention is a waste of everyone’s time. (One senior Corbynite likened poll-watching to “worrying about tealeaves”.)
The more widespread view is that the deadlocked polls are a result of the polarization between left and right: the last election realigned politics into two big blocs and that a combination of the breakdown of the prevailing economic model and first past the post means that it will stay that way.
Why, then, is the leadership not more depressed? On that reading, they realigned politics, but the realignment wasn’t enough to deliver a Labour government. The reason is a belief that time favours Labour. The government will have to deliver a Brexit deal that falls short of May’s rhetoric, the public realm, particularly the NHS, will continue to be under growing pressure, and the housing market will continue to shut out growing numbers of voters under 45.
And that’s why, even if the polls continue to show Labour and the Conservatives at level-pegging, you shouldn’t expect a great rethink or change of approach from the Opposition any time soon.