Corbyn’s chances of staying leader are better than ever – for now

A few months ago I argued that Corbyn’s leadership wasn’t as secure as it seemed. Although he had won a comfortable majority and most Labour members said he was doing well, I thought that around a quarter of his voters might doubt his electability and be prepared to switch to a rival. That could be enough for him to be turfed out in a leadership content.

Now, a fresh YouGov/Times poll of Labour members has forced me to change my mind.

According to my theory, a chunk of Corbyn voters should have looked at his recent performance and started signalling their willingness to back an alternative.

This hasn’t happened.

If anything, we see the opposite. A larger proportion of Labour members now say they think Corbyn’s doing well than said the same in November (72% to 66%). Among those who voted for him last year, only 16% think he should be ousted before the next general election.

This has sunk my theory that Corbyn could be overthrown soon. Since the November poll, we’ve seen Corbyn’s weak response to the Budget, his Shadow Chancellor waving around the Little Red Book, the leaking of the naughty/nice list of MPs, revelations about members’ anti-Semitism, and his opposition losing seats in the local elections. Yet, Labour members have seen all this and become more confident in their leader.

If these mini-crises haven’t disillusioned Corbyn’s voters, it’s hard to imagine what, realistically, could do so in the next two years. Corbyn has just survived the biggest electoral test he will face until, arguably, the European elections in 2019 (if we have them).

But that still doesn’t mean he’s sure to be leader in the next election.

We fight em till we can't

Strong though this poll is for Corbyn, it also shows what could be his undoing. Only half of Labour members think the party is on course to win the next election. A quarter of Corbyn’s voters think it’s heading towards defeat. While there’s no sign they think the party would do better under an alternative, those are dangerous numbers for Corbyn.

For now this question seems unimportant to many members. Some of those who backed Corbyn did so because they wanted him to be an effective opponent to the Tories, rather than because they really thought he could be Prime Minister (not that those qualities can be separated).

When the 2020 election feels less distant than it does now, this tension will become more pressing. Only 35% of members currently think Corbyn should go before the election – either now or later – but that figure could change once the stakes are clearer.

For any Labour MPs considering a challenge to Corbyn, this week’s poll will be bleak reading. Any parliamentary uprising would have no chance of succeeding with members, and would strengthen the view that he’s being undermined by colleagues who won’t give him a chance and are themselves to blame for Labour’s failure to win over the public.

The poll suggests I was wrong to have thought members might lose faith in Corbyn in the first half of the Parliament. But their minds may still be changed once they turn their attention to who they want to be Prime Minister in 2020 and wonder whether the party is on a path to victory.


Comments are closed.