Did you know that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is now as popular as it was when Tony Blair won the 1997 landslide election? Probably not.
The Observer’s Opinium poll has Labour two points ahead of the Tories, by 42% to 40%. YouGov earlier this month had Labour three points clear, 43% to 40% (remember that number: 43%).
It is not enough for Blair, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I still say come on, guys, we should be 15, 20 points ahead at this stage.”
This from the man who predicted electoral oblivion for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. If Blair’s crystal ball had told the truth, Labour would have been wiped out after the June election. Instead of that, he complains that Labour is only three points ahead of the Tories!
I challenged someone on Twitter whose response to the YouGov poll was: “Not good news for Labour. In any normal parliamentary cycle they should be further ahead.”
I asked him which “normal parliamentary cycle” he was referring to. I don’t remember the Tories taking a lead after their defeats in 1997, 2001 or 2005. Labour barely got above a three-point lead during the entire coalition government of 2010 (and even then its lead turned out to be exaggerated by pollsters). When WAS this mythical “normal parliamentary cycle”? I got no response.
Corbyn’s opponents from both sides of the parliamentary divide are keen to talk down his achievements by belittling them. But let’s look at some figures.
Remember that one I quoted above – 43%?
Blair might have forgotten this, but that is the share of the vote that he won as Labour leader in 1997 – the vote that led to a massive 179 majority. That is where Labour now stands in the polls.
Put like that, 43% doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
So why doesn’t Labour now hold a commanding lead? The answer is simple.
Britain has moved back towards a two-party state in recent years, largely as a result of the coalition and then the collapse of Ukip. Whether you think this loss of diversity is good or bad, it has had one major result: it has propped up the Tories.
Theresa May’s party – despite the scandals, crises and incompetence – is consistently polling around 40%.
Not only has she gained the votes of disenchanted Ukip supporters, but she has benefited from the collapse of the Lib Dems. In 1997 the Lib Dems won 17% of the vote, rising with each election to 23% in 2010.
Now the Lib Dems are polling at just six per cent – a disastrous collapse, but great news for May.
Some believed that “progressive” Lib Dem voters would desert to Labour after the coalition, but that didn’t happen. In my Calder Valley constituency, for example, they moved pretty much en bloc to the Tories.
So what next?
I was asked in June if I thought the general election had been a “high water mark” for Labour under Corbyn. At the time I wasn’t sure but I’m now convinced that Corbyn’s Labour CAN go higher. Higher, that is, than the party ever did under Blair.
The irony is that Labour’s chances will to some extent depend on a comeback by the Lib Dems (and Ukip, though that seems unlikely).
There is a large section of the public that will never, ever vote Labour. It’s in Labour’s interests that those people are turned off by May.
In the meantime, there is much work to be done as the battle isn’t over yet. Labour supporters must not become complacent and think the next election – whenever it comes – is a foregone conclusion. The Tories haven’t got where they are today by giving up easily or without a (dirty) fight.
Things can change, and they can change fast. Earlier this year I was still saying that Corbyn was unlikely to win the next election which, at that time, was expected in 2020. Not because of him, but because ANY leader of ANY opposition party is unlikely these days to overturn a majority in just one parliament. That’s what modern political history has taught us. But I did add a caveat: that applies unless something extraordinary happens.
Happily, something extraordinary did happen. One morning, the Prime Minister looked into her mirror – provided by her right-wing media friends – and it told her she was the fairest, and the strongest, and the most stable of all. So she called an election – and we all know what happened. That mirror had lied to her.
When will the next election be? Shadow chancellor John McDonnell believes it will be soon, and the Labour Party is much better prepared this time.
A poll lead of two or three points might not seem that impressive, but think back to when the election was called in April. Some polls had Labour 20 points behind at the start of that campaign. I’ll settle for three points ahead at this stage of the game – but I’ll be fighting to increase it.