Blinkered

Labour’s membership are skewing the party away from the views of its voters.

British politics is entering turbulent times. Nowhere can this turbulence be felt more strongly than within the Labour party. A string of resignations and a thumping vote of no confidence has sent the party into a tailspin. Mr Corbyn has dug in as leader and refuses to resign.

His MPs think he should change his mind, voting 172-40 against Mr Corbyn continuing to lead the party.
Labour MP no confidence

What’s interesting is a couple of months prior, most MPs were either on board with, or neutral towards, Mr Corbyn.

Labour MP loyalty to Corbyn 1

Whatsmore, total negative MPs (core -ve and hostile) in Labour’s ranks only outnumbered total positive MPs (Core and Core +ve) by 10, or by 6 percentage points. 

Total positive vs total negative Labour MPs

The size of the no confidence vote administered by Labour MPs, therefore, implies positive MPs also had no confidence in Mr Corbyn. This, in turn, suggests that it goes much beyond a Blairite coup. Case in point: David Winnick, left wing MP for Walsall North who was considered loyal to Mr Corbyn, and was placed in the core +ve group, wrote that the party could not be governed by the left, saying:

It is perfectly understandable that Labour’s opponents and rivals are hoping that the present leadership crisis will lead to the party splitting. If that was to be the outcome, it would indeed be a betrayal of all those whom Labour came into existence to represent and to bring in progressive legislation when in office. I joined in 1957 because I had become a democratic socialist – if a rather leftwing one – and a staunch opponent of all forms of dictatorship, Marxist no less than the rightwing regimes. Certainly I was pleased when the totalitarian Soviet state collapsed with the other eastern European regimes.

The present trouble to a large extent arises because some of the most senior figures currently in control are not and do not claim to be social democrats. Hence, John McDonnell said in the house on 7 September 2010 that he was a Marxist and not a Keynesian. He made the same point on a later occasion. Jeremy Corbyn has undoubtedly bravely stood up over the years against human rights abuses (and, for that matter, so has John). That is much to their credit, even more so when the causes were unpopular. However, in his regular column in the Morning Star over the years, criticism is unlikely to be found of the absence of democratic liberties and rights in the communist states, including Cuba. The party simply cannot in my view be led successfully by the far left; to some extent, the same is true when the leader is very much on the right, like Hugh Gaitskell, which led to constant divisions and challenges to him.

The public would agree. A survey of 1257 adults for Ipsos-Mori found most were dissatisfied with Mr Corbyn as of June 2016 (pre referendum)

Satisfaction with Corbyn

Disconnect
While both the public and Labour MPs (from all party wings) are dissatisfied with Mr Corbyn, the membership, at least pre-referendum, were happy with his tenure as Labour leader based on the results of a YouGov poll

Corbyn Performance according to Labour party members

It’s even more acute when you look at Labour party members who voted for Corbyn in 2015:

Corbyn Performance according to Labour party members who voted Corbyn in 2015

When compared side-by-side, the way the membership has skewed the Labour party demographic relative to people who voted Labour in 2015 is all but clear. The membership surge seen under Mr Corbyn over the last nine months is not representative of the wider country. Over the last nine months, the grassroots that has emerged has blinkered Labour to the mood of the nation. Mr Corbyn has been the worst performing Labour leader (polls wise) in its post war history.

As discussed on this blog before, while the press is undoubtedly negative towards Mr Corbyn and Labour in general (and has grown more negative over the last decade or so), the power the printed word has to sway public opinion is questionable. Most people get their information from, and place more trust in, broadcast media. Evidence of broadcaster bias against Labour is patchy (both main parties got pretty even coverage in the 2015 election) but it’s there. It’s also worth pointing out that newspapers often set broadcast coverage. This lock-step nature of print and broadcast journalism might explain why, in broadcast coverage, the economy (which favoured the Tories) outweighed the NHS (which favoured Labour) by 4 to 1 in the 2015 general election.

So can his performance be excused by a hostile media environment? Perhaps. But Mr Corbyn cannot allow his own follies to be excused by an unwelcoming media. While he rightly raises points about the damages of austerity, his electoral strategy is backwards. Consider the following: the narrative of Labour lost because it positioned itself as “austerity-lite” doesn’t make much sense when the UK electorate decided to vote in a party that was overtly austerity. The movement left in 1974 and 1983 are associated with drops in Labour’s share of the vote, when the press was no less hostile

Mr Corbyn’s problems go beyond the media. As data from YouGov shows (and as discussed on this blog) his membership have cooled to him since the EU referendum:

Labour Party voter intentions may to june

It’s likely Corbyn could still rely on the membership to return him to power in a leadership election, but that’s not certain. What is clear is that he’s failed to change voter perceptions of him since heading the opposition. That needs to change. Mr Corbyn’s message is too important and the need for a strong opposition is too great for Labour to be forever consigned to the benches facing the government. He’s has lost the faith of his MPs, is losing the faith of the members, and hasn’t earned the faith of the voters. He’ll need to act fast to save this sinking ship.

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