In weeks of Labour’s worst electoral defeat since 1935 pollsters are already predicting who will succeed Jeremy Corbyn in becoming leader of the opposition in March. However, YouGov have revealed that the front-runner and continuity-Corbyn candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, is expected to lose emphatically to the shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer.
The poll, carried out between December the 20th and December the 30th, asked Labour members who their preferred candidate was in both a preliminary and a final round. The preliminary round poll indicates that Starmer is miles ahead with support from 31% of the party’s membership. 11-points behind and on 1/5 of the vote is Long-Bailey. With the Corbyn-critic and member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips polling in third on 11%.
The remaining four candidates: Yvette Cooper, Clive Lewis, Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy are all polling at a meagre 5 to 7 percent. The Wigan MP voiced support for a sensible Brexit deal since 2016 and yet she is lagging behind all of her ardent Remainer counterparts.
Unfortunately for Long-Bailey this poll was conducted before Ian Lavery decided to throw his hat into the ring. A further split on the far-left of the party could enable a more moderate candidate, like Jess Phillips, onto the final ballot. But perhaps more importantly Lavery has the backing from Len McCluskey, the leader of the powerful Unite union.
Nonetheless, YouGov’s final round projects a crushing defeat for Long-Bailey, only comparable to Owen Smith’s defeat to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016. Starmer is polling at 61%, compared to 39% for Long-Bailey. And if Sir Keir Starmer is successful then Labour will be the only mainstream party to fail to elect a female leader, 45-years after Margaret Thatcher took control of the Tory party.
When dissecting the result there are also stark differences in voting patterns. The only group that Long-Bailey was victorious amongst were Labour Leavers, with 60% support. Given Labour’s failure to retain long-standing socialists in their former heartland seats, like Darlington, Delyn and Don Valley, electing an ardent Remainer may prove problematic.
Keir Starmer was the most popular among all age groups, across the class and gender divide in all four corners of the United Kingdom. However, in 2024 the British electorate will be asked to vote on the winner and probably Boris Johnson. For either candidate to win they need to engage with voters well beyond the 500,000 strong Labour membership.
Currently, Labour aficionados believe that the next leader of the Labour Party will be the most left-leaning of the final two. Part of the reason for Unite’s support for Lavery is that he represents Corbynism without being Corbyn. And while he is not as appealing to university towns, he is more likely to appeal to the northern heartlands.
However, some still see Corbyn as the only candidate who could win the full-backing of the membership. One shadow cabinet minister told The Financial Times that “despite everything, despite the election, if he ran again the [members] would absolutely vote for him — many are still disappointed he is standing down”.
But there are almost two-months until the Labour party decide their leader and there are several reasons why politicos should take the first poll in the leadership race with a pinch of salt:
Firstly, none of the candidates that members were polled on are officially running. All of the would-be leaders are only expressing their intention to run. All of these candidates will need 10% support among the 203 MPs and the 10 European members who roam between Brussels and Strasbourg before going to the membership.
In addition, campaigns can change the course of an election. In 1945, Clement Attlee went from a mocked, quiet man to Prime Minister with Labour’s first ever outright majority. Such a shock came from a great Labour campaign, and simultaneously a poor Churchillian one. If any of the candidates can make specific inroads then the whole leadership race could change.
Finally, this poll does not include all groups in the 520,000 who were eligible to vote in the 2016 leadership race. YouGov’s poll of 1,059 members does not include the affiliated groups who are also entitled to vote. Members of the Fabians society and the Unite union. According to LabourList, Corbyn fared better with associate groups over the core membership.
The leadership race is set to start on the 7th of January and while the nation is entering a new year and a new decade, Labour are entering a new dawn. The party’s future hangs by a knife-edge and this election could either spark a revival or consign the party into the electoral wilderness.
By J Walters