How come Labour is polling so well?

4 Jun

Writing in the Guardian on New Year’s Day 2016, John Harris explained thus the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn:

I am not exactly .. a Corbynista, but … whatever his suitability for the job, Corbyn is where he is for one reason above all others: the fact that Britain’s post-1979 journey into a new reality of a shrunken welfare state, marketised public services, rising inequality and an impossible job market had reached a watershed with the deepening of austerity, and there was a need for a clear moral response, without which Labour was in danger of shrinking into meaninglessness. On that score, over the summer of 2015, the heirs to the New Labour project were found wanting; indeed, their very philosophy was fatally exposed.

Harris’s words are the exception proving the rule. Two years of relentless Guardian hostility to an ‘unelectable’ Corbyn have been bad, but worse has been its refusal to do its job as a serious newspaper. At a time of challenge from left and right to neoliberal consensus, to what Tariq Ali calls the Extreme Centre, the Guardian was as one with other corporate media in its wilful and near total failure to ask why this man was twice given the biggest mandate of any leader since Attlee. Prioritising condemnation over analysis, it joined Tony ‘Get a Transplant’ Blair in finding his supporters unfathomably stupid. Since stupidity, like death and taxes, is a given it followed that one of the biggest political upsets in living memory lay beyond/beneath serious inquiry. Cue for Behr, Freedland, Kettle, Toynbee et al to disregard Dylan’s counsel about not criticising what we don’t understand. Day and night, rain or shine, they took with gusto to traducing this man of principle while paying no heed to that hunger, till then unfocused and undirected, for Harris’s “clear moral response” to localised dispossession and globalised disenfranchisement.

Yesterday the Guardian came out for Labour. (See Jonathan Cook’s open letter, barbed but not unkind, to Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett on such Damascene moments.) Days earlier it had told us the Tory lead is shrinking because Corbyn is fighting a good campaign, May a bad one.

There’s truth in that but it doesn’t capture the half of it. Yes, as the North Carolinan cited in the previous post observed, May has shown herself a “stodgy performer in debate … unable to think on her feet”. And yes, her performance is the worse for Lynton Crosby having failed to see that the dark arts of spin and dirty trick are open to challenge, cross check and blowback in ways they were not for Blair and Campbell. The times are indeed a-changing and even from a narrowly psephological perspective it’s Crosby’s world, not Momentum’s, that’s been left in the dust with an unsaleable brand Theresa.

More importantly, Corbyn’s unruffled dignity and palpable sincerity strike a chord with many of the undecided, and not a few who’d been against him. This takes us to one of the reasons the Tory lead is shrinking. No leader of the opposition, not even Kinnock, has been subjected to the vitriol Corbyn has withstood. That vilification has come as much from Independent, Guardian and BBC as Mail, Sun and Telegraph. Nor, with the part exception of Graun and Indi, did it stop when May called the election. But that’s not the point. Electoral rules place Corbyn-the-man in public view – out on the stump, in interview and in live debate – for many whose impressions had hitherto been informed entirely by daily screeds of vilification in print, backed by carefully selected and edited soundbytes and setups of the kind Ms Kuenssberg is fond of. A few things accrue from this change. One, those media, aided by Tories and PLP alike, have hurled their all at him. He stands taller than ever; they’re out of ammo. Two, his decency shines through all the more as British fair play (over-egged but, like many national stereotypes, not entirely divorced from reality) kicks in. Three, those sold on the view of him as ‘nice but no backbone’ – a minor but resonating chord in the Can’t Take Jezza Seriously symphony – have been surprised by his combative skills and ability, so lacking in Theresa May, to think on his feet. Starved for decades of senior politicians who demonstrably mean what they say and say what they mean, many are seeing this man in a new light, literally and metaphorically, and liking what they see.

To these three factors, consequent on increased exposure under UK electoral rules, we can add others. Four, and this demands dedicated treatment though I touch on the subject in my post on ‘fake news’, the power of corporate media is waning, slowly but surely, and our ruling class is worried about it. This too is not to be overstated, nor is it without counter tendencies, but the ease with which marginalised views and disregarded evidence can be circulated online is not to the liking of Murdoch, Barclay Brothers and the interests they serve.

It’s also why Captain SKA’s Liar Liar is at number 4 in the UK charts, despite the radio ban …

I don’t say this all stacks up to a Labour victory on June 8; of course I don’t. What’s more, for reasons that also demand their own post, I’d fear a hung parliament with Corbyn its neutered leader. But Britain’s shifting landscape means that while Labour may never take office again, in any form we recognise, Corbyn comes closer to electability than anyone Labour’s ‘moderates’ could possibly offer. Those hankering after some re-engineered version of Blair’s ‘third way’ have yet to grasp that its trickledown premises, like Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’, are in ruins. It’s no longer possible to capture the centre without losing what were once seen as the heartlands. Or vice versa. There’s a one word answer to those who tell us a ‘moderate’ leader can get into Number 10. That word being Scotland.

Still less do I say it’s all about Jezza, which takes us back to the biggest reason of all, so ably articulated by John Harris. Labour has eroded the Tories’ seemingly unassailable lead in the polls for all the reasons discussed but more still for the fact its message and programme are closer to the lived experience of those who, having gained zilch from globalisation but zero hour jobs and vanishing public services, have glimpsed something better.

And unlike any election since 1997, if not 1945, those losers just might turn up and vote.

15 Replies to “How come Labour is polling so well?

  1. I suspect you meant to say: “There’s a one word answer to those who tell us only a ‘moderate’ leader can get into Number 10. That word being Scotland.

    Yet many of this group in the PLP continue to operate under the delusion that their view and approach represents the only possible and “realistic” way forward. Still operating with the patronising Mandelson disdain that voters have nowhere else to go. Thus we have targetted letters going out in more than one constituency across the country with this kind of narrative. Quote:

    “In the last few weeks I have met many previous Labour voters who, this time round, are giving serious thought to voting for another party or not voting at all.

    Many of them think we need a strong government at this time of change and uncertainty. I understand that, and I agree.”……..

    ………”it is clear the Conservatives are going to win a big majority – perhaps with more MPs than ever before.”…..

    ……….Theresa May is certain to be re-elected as Prime Minister”………

    ……..”When you come to vote on 8th June I hope you will give me your support as a strong and independent member of parliament.”…….

    …….In this seat it really is neck and neck now: just a handful of votes could make all the difference. If you support me I promise not to let you down.”


    This group, like it’s predecessors led by Dennis Healey in 1983, do not want a real Labour Government operating outside the Overton Window. Their campaign literature and approach makes Don Quixote seem like a realist. Should Labour under the Corbyn leadership succeed in either denying the Tories under May a working majority sufficient to form a Government or gaining sufficient seats to form a Labour Government the question has to be faced as to whether anyone would seriously want this group of fifth columnists within their ranks?

    John Cleese puts this most succinctly here:

  2. Knocking doors in an admittedly safe Labour constituency I am impressed by how many young people (under 30) are expressing enthusiastic support for Corbyn and how few of any age are expressing doubts about him. No wonder the Guardian has started to smell the coffee!

  3. While people are warming towards Jeremy Corbyn and his obvious, sincerely held principles, one has to questioin his economic and defence policies.

    • 159 economists have backed Corbyn in a letter to the Observer. The idea that Tories are better with the finances has been proven a myth. 7 years of austerity have filled the accounts in taxhavens and left our vulnerable in a state of misery and despair and our national debt has risen by £ 1 trillion.
      We need investment in our security police and fire services. The only answer May has to her appalling record is to attack more of our freedoms, soon she will be closing down any access to information outside the propaganda of the majority of MSM, with her attack on social media.

      • It’s a bit difficult to seperatists out the two (defence and economic policy).

        Particularly when the Tory Party in Government have effectively rolled both policies into a single policy in which the defence policy of the country is achieved by using economic policy to sell off everything which exists, infrastructure (rail, water, electricity, gas etc), NHS buildings and assets (see the Naylor Report) at knock down prices with a 2 for 1 offer, and anything else not superglued to the bedrock of the planet to other State entities like the Chinese, the French, the Gulf States et al so they can make a feudal rent as our landlords from the peasants and serfs bought and sold by these traitors in the Tory Party and their wannabe admirers from the Progress (sic) Group.

        Defence seems have morphed into nothing more than a protection racket in which selling everything off via economic policy is viewed as a defence policy on the grounds that anyone who tries to invade or threaten these islands will find them facing the landlords in the Chinese and other large States.

        Alternatively we have n establishment represented by the Tory Party who have openly committed to being in favour of a first strike Nuclear attack policy as though it was some kind of video game rather than the policy of the mentally insane ( and that description also applies to voters who support that policy and position) which WILL wipe out all life on the planet. A good place to start the road back to sanity would be here:

        Being concerned about Labour Party defence and economic policy seems an odd priority when faced with either extinction arising from Tory so called defence policy and perpetual serfdom to parasitic rentiers arising from Tory economic policies.

        If we continue down the road of following the requirements identified in the Dunning-Kruguer effect than it will not be too long before we all follow the Easter Islanders into oblivion and non existence.

        • While the intrigues of politics continue to mystify an uninformed person like myself, several years of Tory austerity have brought about widespread discontent added to which their ‘hard Brexit’ policy is giving rise to concern. Previous Labour governments lead us to the brink of bankruptcy and though many are worried about their current economic policies they are prepared to take the risk and vote labour – or even Lib/Dem – in protest. A hung parliament could well be tomorrow’s result, then what?

          • You and me both. We didn’t get where we are today without being mystified, particularly at the behaviour of others we share a space and time with whilst we are here.

            Fair question about a hung Parliament though. Putting my ex engineers head on it seems reasonable to surmise there are only a limited number of plausible scenarios to consider.

            Normally, that would include only consideration of the number of seats aquired by both the two large Party’s and other Party’s who might well form some kind of arrangement.

            I’m led to understand that the Lib Dems, for example, have since 2010 had some kind of rule introduced which involves some kind of wider decision making process via either on a delegate basis or whole membership vote before any formal coalition is entered into.

            Should the Conservative and Unionist Party gain the most seats without a working majority it is difficult to envisage the Lib Dems accepting the same poisoned chalice which crippled them in the 2015 election. Apart from the Unionist Party’s in NI and any seats, if at all, UKIP pick up I cannot see any of the other Party’s as presently constituted wanting any form of arrangement with them.

            Such an outcome would in any case see the 1922 Committee draw their knives on May. It would of course be an instinctive reaction in those circumstances, having called an unnecessary election with three years of a working majority remaining. It would look bad with electorate, regardless of the biased spin which would be put on it by the billionaire owned media and the supine State broadcaster. I cannot see any upside for them in going down that road.

            They would limp towards a queens speech which if it contained legislation along the same lines as the past several years would inevitably be voted down leading to the inevitable election by October.

            Should the Labour Party find itself in a position to form a confidence and supply arrangement along the lines of the Wilson Government in the 70’s, rather than a formal coalition with Party’s like the SNP, PC and posibly the Greens if any are elected this time they could get progressive legislation through and start to turn things around.

            However, those options may not be the only possibilities around. The elected Labour leadership have a group within the PLP who have signed led clearly in the Telegraph recently that they will quit the Labour whip when, in their view, May wins and Corbyn stays on.

            A National Government with sections of the current PLP, sensible Tories ( if any remain) and Orange book Lib Dems is worth considering.

  4. Non gratis
    No thanks from those in failing health, austerity holds sway.
    Doctors, staff and finances in ceaseless disarray.
    No thanks for great disruption of our children’s` education,
    No answers to our students` dismal credit situations.
    No thanks for fewer numbers of policemen on the beat,
    resulting in less safety and more crime on every street.
    No thanks from the disabled and bedroom tax despair.
    No thanks from senior citizens, for those in need of care.
    No thanks as losses still persist in wars we can`t afford,
    we question if stability will ever be restored.

  5. Well, well and thrice well! Just savouring the news from my hotel in Hangzhou, China. It’s 13:30 local time, 06:30 GMT. Fantastic result – and my vote in Sheffield Hallam not wasted either! Tara, Nick.

  6. Hi Phil, sounds like you are enjoying yourself.

    Penistone and Stocksbridge scraped a majority of only around 1300, down from around 6k two years ago. Hardly surprising given the negative campaign run by the local candidate based on an anti Corbyn approach of vote for me and I will hold the Tories to account.

    Given that the Constituency has just over half that number of Party members, many of whom joined the Party to support a proper alternative, their very existence as new Party members is indeed fortuitous.

    • I am Dave. Enjoying myself. How long the Tories, famously unforgiving of failure – Tebbit in the Telegraph today: “Theresa May arrogantly abandoned Thatcherism. This is her reward” – will let her stay is one question. What will the DUP want is another. A bigger one, as your allusion to Angela Smith implies, is how the Labour right will respond.

      YouGov will be pleased with themselves.

      • To be fair Phil there is a video clip interview on the State Broadcasting Corporation election site of a mature, honourable and sincere mea culpa from Owen Smith MP recognising he, at least, got Corbun wrong. At one point he says something along the lines of whatever he’s got I wish we could bottle it.

        Perhaps it is straying into the realms of extreme wishful thinking to anticipate similar recognition being afforded from, amongst a host of others in the PLP and Labour Grandees, Hillary Benn, Jess Phillips, John Woodcock, Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair et al?

        Over 12.5 million votes is no mean achievement from the 9+ million only two years ago. Only Blair in 97; Wilson in 1964; and Atlee in 51 pulled in more votes for the Labour Party. I don’t think anyone has managed to increase the vote as high as that for the Labour Party from election to another.

  7. Update. Things seem to be moving in a disturbing direction. May propping up her Government with the DUP has focused attention on NI, which is at present in the middle of a Constitutional crisis.

    A brief summary can be found here:

    And in the context of Brexit this piece in the Irish Times is also relevant

    Particularly in the context of what amounts to UK policy using various bits of the security services to sponsor various jihadists type groups who are allowed to come and go as they please.

    If NI kicks off again they will have to start drawing up a roster to see whose turn it is. Question is is this incompetence or design?

    • I don’t see how a DUP deal can save either May or hard Brexit. Even on its own terms it can’t work when any support it brought on a measure by measure basis would be at risk of rebellion by gay, feminist, pro-Europe and climate concerned Tories. Just as the Labour right always prefers a Tory victory to a left Labour one, there are Tories who’d prefer opposition to going down in history for an unprincipled alliance driven by nothing more than saving May.

      My sense is her close confidantes are on an emotional and insomniac roller coaster, zigzagging between despair and false hope.

      • Certainly from some of what I’ve picked up so far it is not going down too well with RD head of the Scottish Tories.

        Considering possible scenarios it would seem reasonable to have implosion somewhere on the list.

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