Is Jeremy Corbyn at the root of Labour’s problems?
Labour leader’s dithering over Brexit and failure to tackle antisemitism means he has turned from asset to liability
A series of polls which have put the Labour party in fourth place nationwide and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal approval ratings at a historic low, have ramped up pressure on the Labour leader to either change his position on Brexit or stand aside in a bid to save his party from electoral ruin.
A poll by YouGov for The Times, put Labour on 18%, its lowest rating since polling began in the 1940s, and behind the Conservatives, Brexit Party and Lib Dems.
“You don’t have to look far to find one of the key reasons for Labour’s poor position in the polls,” says The Daily Telegraph.
Corbyn is the most unpopular opposition leader on record, according to tracking conducted by Ipsos Mori. The veteran socialist’s personal approval ratings have fallen to -58, even lower than Theresa May’s and below the previous low of -56 achieved by Michael Foot in August 1982.
And it gets worse. When Ipsos Mori recently polled voters on the characteristics of four leaders or potential leaders — Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Nigel Farage — Corbyn came bottom for “the most capable leader”, bottom for “good in a crisis”, bottom for “sound judgment” and bottom for “good representative on the world stage”.
Gideon Skinner, of Ipsos Mori, said: “When he was up against Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn’s public image was strongest on honesty, personality and being less out of touch, but his ratings have fallen on all of these, while remaining weak on factors such as being good in a crisis”.
Driving these numbers are Corbyn’s poor personal handling of the anti-Semitism crisis within the party, and his unclear stance on Brexit which is driving disaffected Remain voters to the Lib Dems and northern Brexit-supporters to the Brexit Party in droves.
Politics Home says the poll “suggests Labour's struggle to come up with a coherent Brexit policy is playing a large part in their woes”.
Just 25% of 2016 Remain voters told YouGov they would now back Labour, down from 48% at the start of the year. And while Labour started 2019 with the support of more than a fifth (21%) of Leave voters, just 8% now say they will vote for the party.
“The crash will deeply alarm Labour MPs who have been told to get ready in case of an early election,” says the London Evening Standard.
According to the Daily Express the Labour leader “is coming under fierce pressure from within his own party to back a second Brexit referendum”, with reports both shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott believed to be in favour.
“Labour’s crisis is as much moral as political” writes Nick Cohen in The Spectator. “To the young, who projected their fantasies of what a socialist leader should be on to Corbyn’s bland features, his Brexit policy is an almost personal betrayal,” he writes.
“It’s apparent as soon as you speak to any Labour figure who is not demented, or as you parse the writings and quarrels of the Corbynite media commentators, that they know that the Corbyn moment is over,” says David Aaronovitch in The Times.
Coming so soon after worse-than-expected local election results, where Labour surprisingly lost seats, and a drubbing in the European parliamentary elections, the polls suggest Labour and Corbyn are further away from power than at any time over the past two years.
“That’s why war-gaming has begun again among Labour’s factions,” says Aaronovitch.
Cohen reports “An alliance between the soft and hard left opens the prospect of Corbynism surviving Corbyn”.
There are rumours of a deal circulating among Labour MPs in which McDonnell would offer his support to Emily Thornberry, Keir Starmer or Angela Rayner, depending on who would be most likely to win, in return for keeping him in his shadow cabinet post and promoting several of his proteges.
Another option from the moderate wing of the party would see deputy leader Tom Watson mount a hostile leadership challenge if the party’s pro-European majority fails to convince Corbyn to back a second referendum.
The problem is that unless he voluntarily retires, the only way to replace Corbyn before the UK crashes out of the EU at the end of October would be to challenge him – and no one appears ready to take that nuclear option quite yet.
“Yet, due to our electoral system, he could be prime minister this year. If there is no Farage/Johnson pact, Labour could cut through the middle on a low vote,” says The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee.
Alternatively, a disastrous no-deal Brexit which could see blocked ports, panic buying in shops, medicine shortages and the flight of business would be fertile electoral ground for Labour.
“Even if Labour finally arrives at a remain-referendum stance, its vote will now be sliced away by Lib Dems and Greens unless Corbyn makes a pact – a prospect tragically unlikely given his ideological obstinacy,” says Toynbee.
“No one sensible can know or predict. But it’s a dismal fate for Labour supporters to find their best chance of power is through a national collapse, not through the party’s own vision, leadership and plans for the future,” she adds.