As CLP nominations close, with Jeremy Corbyn leading, Labour members must remember that its electoral fortunes can get worse as well as better
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the New Statesman in which I argued that Jeremy Corbyn was not the answer to Labour’s problems. Last week I was interviewed about it on the BBC and you can see the clip here. My reasoning is pretty straightforward, Labour can only win if its leader is seen as a credible Prime Minister in waiting and the Labour Party regains public trust on the economy. I think a Corbyn led Labour solves neither of these problems – in fact I think it would make things worse.
This week, a Labour supporting colleague that had seen my clip cornered me at work and said something that I thought was interesting:
“The thing you have to understand Keiran is that none of them can win anyway, so we might as well vote for Jeremy Corbyn”.
I was taken aback by this view but it turns out that it might be more widespread than I thought. In this week’s New Statesman podcast, Stephen Bush described several conversations he has had with people in Labour that said exactly the same thing. Many members do not think that any of the candidates can win in 2020 so they reason that they might as well ‘vote with their heart’.
This is a really dangerous mindset for the Labour Party to be in. Assuming it is true that Labour simply cannot win in 2020 (I disagree), Labour members have to realise that there are different degrees of defeat. For example, a Conservative majority of 80 has very different implications for Labour’s long term prospects than a minority Conservative Government. Labour cannot assume that because it got 30% of the vote in 2015 that the only way is up. Labour can lose votes too and the leader it chooses will be vital to whether things get better or worse.
In short, 2020 cannot be treated as a ‘free hit’ because Labour won’t win anyway. Things could get worse and Labour would then be further away from government than it is now.
My view is that if Labour puts forward a hardleft platform to the country it will do little to solve its problems in Scotland – as BES data has shown this week – but it will further alienate English voters and mean that the Conservatives increase their majority in 2020. Labour’s ‘Scotland problem’ is a difficult one to solve but I am sceptical simply promising to ‘oppose austerity’ an sscrap Trident will solve it. Meanwhile, such a platform will give the new Conservative leader a very easy General Election campaign to fight in England. He or she can present ‘Conservative security’ versus ‘Labour risk’ again – just as the Conservatives did with such success in 2015.
To win again Labour needs to form a new electoral coalition large enough to win 3540% of the popular vote. It cannot realistically do so without winning over some Conservative voters – many of whom will have voted Labour in the past. Of course, winning over nonvoters, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and UKIP supporters will help too but it is a fantasy to think victory can be achieved with this group alone. Once you accept this reality, it is very hard to make an argument that Jeremy Corbyn is the man for the job.
But whatever you think about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party – and I have made my thoughts pretty clear – the one thing Labour members must always remember is that there is no guarantee of things get better from here. If they do get worse, suddenly 2025 will not be winnable either and people will question if Labour can ever win again. Labour members have a serious choice to make when choosing the next leader and win or lose in 2020 that choice has significant long term implications for the party. If you are voting in the contest, whoever you plan on supporting, it is worth keeping that in mind.
Keiran Pedley is an elections and polling expert at GfK and presenter of the podcast ‘Polling Matters’. He tweets about polls and politics at @keiranpedley