OF course we are still in the honeymoon period and the Conservatives are doing quite well in the opinion polls. However, there seems to be an ever-so-slight upturn in Labour’s fortunes.
In mid-January an Opinium poll for the Observer had Labour trailing the Conservatives by 17 percentage points, 47 to 30. Last weekend the gap narrowed to 15. This compares with the actual General Election result of a 12-point Labour deficit in the popular vote. Labour were the only major party to lose vote share.
But an upturn is an upturn. What is going on?
It’s not because of the Huawei deal, or the decision to plough on with HS2. Instead it could be because people are seeing the retreat of Corbyn and Corbynism from mainstream politics. While Corbyn remains party leader, he is a powerless caretaker. He is a forlorn figure and now has so little to do that he seems to have taken to attending parliamentary debates at which he does not speak, rather than plotting Marxist takeovers in his office.
The upturn is probably due to the increasing likelihood that Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC MP is likely to be the next Labour leader, proving once again that selecting parliamentary candidates using a quota does not create a deeper pool of talent, but causes non-mediocre candidates to be thrown into sharp relief. It also is probably because the public might be starting to anticipate that Starmer will be reversing most of Corbyn’s, McDonnell’s, and Abbott’s policies and injecting reality and pragmatism into Labour’s policies for the first time in almost five years.
Of course Starmer is the front-runner only in nominations. Rebecca Long Bailey is the continuity Corbyn leadership candidate, and while Starmer is acting the charmer towards the Corbynistas, it is possible they might regard his overtures as a subterfuge. No candidate not backed by the Unite union has won a Labour leadership election in the last decade, and Len McCluskey has hitched his wagon to the double-barrelled one.
So this slight Labour revival might be a pricing-in of Starmer being most likely to win the leadership, but no more. Of course, if McCluskey prevails, the polling results may decline as voters see Long Bailey as Corbyn in a dress. She did not do herself any favours by giving Corbyn ‘ten out of ten’ and is also employing quasi-Orwellian phrases such as ‘progressive patriotism’ and ‘aspirational socialism’. Well, socialists seem to believe Ignorance is Strength, after all. Whatever keeps them happy. The public might be less pleased.
The most interesting poll to come out of the General Election was one of Labour members which showed that they supported the party’s policies even if the party could not win an election with them. Long Bailey is on record as stating she wants no compromise with the electorate. How and when Corbynism will be ditched and what the consequences will be for the party is the most interesting issue. A split seems possible. There is already talk of mass MP defections if Becky brings home the bacon.
Opinion polling in the couple of months after a decisive election is always going to be of dubious value. Voters’ remorse will not be on show so close to the actual vote, and Boris has actually Got Brexit Done.
It remains to be seen if Labour Party members take the hint and vote in Starmer, and Starmer also, in the words of Lord Ashcroft, smells the coffee and starts the careful process of decorbynising the party without alienating the extremists until they can be disposed of safely. Starmer could be a Chernenko or a Gorbachev. If he is the former, Labour will simply continue its stagnation into irrelevance.