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16 March 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:25pm

How much will Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on Russia hurt his electoral chances?

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

By Stephen Bush

Is the Russia story hurting Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral chances? The only voting intention poll since the row began has Labour down in the polls, and outside the margin of error. (Albeit only just.)

Yesterday I wrote that we needed more information before coming even to interim conclusions about how the stand-off would play domestically. Now we have two surveys, both of which show Theresa May’s approach getting a big thumbs up – 61 per cent say she is doing a “good job” handling the United Kingdom’s relations with Russia per Sky Data, while 53 percent say she is handling the incident “very well” or “fairly well” according to YouGov.  Just  18 per cent say the same of Corbyn according to both surveys.

There are a few things worth noting here. The first is that while close to two-thirds of people claim to have followed the Skripal story, there is always some overclaiming on this sort of thing. The second is that of the people following the story, most people won’t be paying much attention to what exactly Corbyn himself said.

That’s particularly important because Corbyn’s bad numbers are an almost exact match to how he polls on his handling of “security issues” more broadly. The most recent issues YouGov tracker – that is, the rolling survey of which party handles various policy areas better – puts the number of people who trust Labour to handle defence and security issues – at, you guessed it, 19 per cent, which seems to be its regular place within the margin of error. Corbyn also tends to do less well than Theresa May whenever questions about how well he is handling any news story or policy area are done, because people tend to treat these questions as a proxy for how they feel about the two leaders. (A good example of this can be found in questions about how good a campaign May and Corbyn were having during the summer of 2017.)

Of course, this is a bit chicken and egg. It is true that in general, Labour starts out in a position of greater trust as far as the National Health Service and schooling goes, but it is also true that policy choices by successive Conservative governments and the present leadership have aggravated the problem. In general, Labour starts out with a handicap as far as crime, immigration, defence and security issues are concerned, but Jeremy Corbyn’s defence and security positions have been outwith the political mainstream for entirety of the postwar period also contributes to the problem. This almost certainly contributes to his standing in the “best Prime Minister” stakes as well.

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And just as there is always a slight fall in the Tory poll share when those Labour “home” issues of health, housing and education shoot up the agenda, so too is there likely to be a similar consequence for Labour when security is an issue. What it is too soon to say is whether the specifics of this row are going to aggravate Labour’s security problem or if the party’s polling on it is merely a consequence of a pre-existing malaise.

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