Sunday, 16 January 2022

Labour's Double-Digit Poll Leads

The double-digit lead for Labour queried here and pretty much everywhere else in left onlineland has at last arrived. Four out of the last five polls taken since 11th January grant Labour a 10-point advantage or greater, depending on who you ask. YouGov returned a 10 and an 11, Opinium a 10, and new kids on the pollster block Findoutnow 14 points. Focal Data stuck out with a "measly" nine-point lead. Pretty encouraging for Keir Starmer and the so-called doctrine of strategic patience, the post facto argument cooked up to explain how everything Labour did over the last year was right. Even when the party and the leader's personal ratings were tanking.

Nevertheless, there is jubilation among Labour rightists because it appears their self-serving argument for smiting the left has been proven by events. Stitch up Jeremy Corbyn, publicly disavow anything that could be construed as leftism, fix selections, and magically millions of people will notice and the party becomes electable again. A cynical empiricist will note the leads posted by Labour this last week are better than anything achieved by his predecessor, even in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 general election and the dog days of Theresa May's premiership. This means the rightwingers' argument is half correct.

Since taking office, Starmer has abandoned most of the Corbyn-lite leadership pledges that won him the top job. The strategy taken since plays up the social conservative vibes and makes a big deal about where Labour have tacked to the right of the Tories on tax cuts for businesses, for instance. Given a lot of this was rolled out this time last year when Starmer started heading south in the polls, it's not likely the ordinary punter had their imagination captured. But what it did was tell the Tory press, still the primary gatekeepers of political discourse in this country despite their waning audiences, that here was a safe pair of hands with whom they could do business. Therefore when Peter Mandelson declared there were millions of voters cheering Starmer on as he tightened up party democracy and attacked bothersome leftists, there were spectators (somewhat fewer than "millions") willing such an outcome: the editorial mouthpieces of the billionaire press barons. The quid pro quo for moving toward their commonsense is the kinder coverage Starmer has received than any of his predecessors, including Tony Blair when he was on his way out.

The thing is, Tory-adjacent/friendly positioning is not all that Starmer has said. Obviously, what has been announced so far isn't Corbynism with an expensive haircut, and can be pretty weak sauce (VAT cuts to fuel as bills rocket skyward springs to mind). But the interesting stuff about collective bargaining and trade union rights and green spending (more on this some time) is also out there and isn't raising the collective ire of the boss class. Perhaps they don't think Starmer means it and it's all a sop to win back the fast disappearing union finance, or that they recognise some modernisation is necessary for the continued health of their system, or they simply haven't noticed it given their lowkey announcement. For whatever reason, the media have barely covered these more recognisable Labour policies, which means it's unlikely the electorate have noticed either.

Taking this on board, there can only be one credible argument for understanding Labour's resurgence in the polls: Boris Johnson is calling the storm down upon himself while all Starmer has had to do is reap the benefits of not being the Tory leader. This, however, is a risky business. During the Ed Miliband years, with his usual cynicism Dan Hodges argued Labour was content to let the Liberal Democrats collapse, soak up their vote and win an election without winning over Tory supporters - an orientation dubbed the "35% strategy". Not true, but given the policy holiday the Labour leadership went on for their first two years there was little to define them and when they tried it looked incoherent. It came too late.

Starmer is fortunate thanks to the more favourable press environment and Johnson's desperate situation, but what if Johnson goes? The Tories have a track record of reinventing themselves in office and going on to win - a feat Labour has never really pulled off. As a dive into recent YouGov data shows, just under half of the 2019 Tory support are sticking with them (for the moment), while only five per cent are switching directly to Labour. 33% are don't knows/won't vote. In other words, a large pool of Tory voters who would probably flock back to the fold with a new leader in situ. Where would that leave Starmer then?

Plenty of times this last year I've attacked Starmer for being utterly useless and bereft of ideas. His leadership was sure to be doomed unless something unforeseen came along and pulled the irons out of the fire for him. That "thing", partygate, has come along and Tory ratings have collapsed. But the argument made many times here about turning Labour's back on the left and alienating the new core support also applies. The polls might shift in the coming weeks, but at present Labour are topping out at 40-41%. Corbyn at his peak achieved 45%, and in the Smith-Blair years of opposition the ratings were well in excess of that. Labour are permanently hobbled by the destruction of Scottish Labour and the gifting of its support to the SNP, the stronger showing for the Greens in the polls, and a LibDem return to double figures. Permanently, unless Labour tacks back from the right and starts speaking up for the interests of those at the core of their coalition: the low paid, the renters, the growing new working class who could give Labour a permanent majority.

Starmer leads by default because he's not Johnson, and he can't rely on him being there when the next election comes round. We need less triangulation and more an appreciation of who the Labour coalition is. The Tories understand their natural support and who's likely to swing their way. 120 years after its foundation, it's about time Labour did the same.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

The problem is that the white working class has been lost for good - Brexit broke its traditional, collective, industrial ties. That doesn't mean it won't vote Labour again, but it is definitely no longer a 'red wall'.

The same thing happened in the US, with the Republican party. The right cynically exploit traditional WWC values such as patriotism, which they contrast with the 'cosmopolitanism' (multiculturalism) of the left.

The ending of the TV license is another great Brexit moment - something the middle class left will not understand, but like Brexit the right-wing press has been softening them up for for decades - AND they will get a tangible £150 in their pocket.

The left has been somewhat hoisted in its own petard here - Phil, it is not enough to be 'right'. Brexit should have taught us that.

Within the conditions that exist, Labour could only be a 'right-wing' party of the left because that's where the votes were - the task was to shift the centre progressively left. However, since the 1970s it has moved progressively to the right, so whatever country a future Labour government inherits will be far more to the right.

The right realised long ago that it was not 'the economy, stupid' it was culture, and the left, disenchanted with the WWC, provided them with a battlefield they couldn't possibly win upon. Going back to New Labour, successful Labour govts needed to sound right but act left on economics and the levers of power. Blair threw it away with Iraq, and being too timid (as the left always is - look at Biden) with power.

This is the result - a continual march ever-rightward. Completely misreading the importance of (Anglo Saxon) culture and ignoring the lessons of Marx. No wonder we are where we are.

Anonymous said...

If the task is to win elections rather than implement a certain vision of society, then Labour could do no worse than parrot what the Tories do. They seem to be good at winning elections.

This does reduce electoral politics to pure careerism though.

My answer would be to abolish electoral politics once and for all and make governing a middle class job like any other, save on the administration costs, and maybe use the money more wisely or freeze council taxes for 10 years.

I think electoral politics is in a state of being undead, and is way past its sell by date.

Anonymous said...

What's left? and importantly what would they do if they won the G.E. that is- policy and economics? If we don't know who do we vote for- the Greens? What you stand for (say and do) does still count- to some extent. And- All votes will count next time. We need to hear Labour saying something- giving us a picture of what they would do in power for families, the young and elderly- ordinary people. Say something don't just react- there is so much to do- make Britain Great.

Blissex said...

«giving us a picture of what they would do in power for families, the young and elderly- ordinary people»

Bigger property prices, cheaper wages, harder law-and-order legislation, entrench brexitism, and a few crumbs off the table too.

Blissex said...

«just under half of the 2019 Tory support are sticking with them (for the moment), while only five per cent are switching directly to Labour. 33% are don't knows/won't vote»

Same as happened in that by-election where a 10% swing to New Labour was celebrated: the number of New Labour voters had collapsed, but so many Conservative voters had abstained that as a percent of a much smaller turnout there was the illusion of a swing.

Still in 2001 and 2005 that worked for New Labour: Tony Blair's toxicity cut the New Labour votes by 4 million, but the memory of the propertycrash of the 1990s meant that the Conservative vote was still lower, and New Labour won a majority of seats by default.

But the current issue with the Conservatives is pretty weak, especially compared to a property crash, just a few minor episodes of spivvery, even if the Liberal Conservative press has bigged them up for a while.