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Why Team Corbyn aren’t worried about the polls

Although the polls are deadlocked, the inner circle is not worried. Here’s why.

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.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.