By Ruaraidh Maciver
Editor-in-Chief, History Student
Political polls haven’t had the best of reputations recently. In the 2015 British general election, no major poll showed a Conservative majority government, with both YouGov and Lord Ashcroft predicting a far closer race, with both primary parties being tied going into the final days. The polls on the lead up to Brexit indicated a close race, with the majority ultimately giving a slight lead to the Remain camp. The US election predictions proved the most certain in their findings, with some outlets giving Hillary Clinton an 80 percent chance in her bid to win the presidency. Yet all of them were wrong. In light of these impressive failings, you could be forgiven for harbouring some doubts as to the validity of any political prediction. However, there has been one poll which has gone unnoticed in discussion, due to the shadow which has been cast by the ongoing events across the Atlantic.
YouGov’s recent results show that the Conservative party retain a double digit lead over Labour, and that almost 50 percent of people believe that Theresa May would make a better Prime Minister than Jeremy Corbyn, who rallied a dismal 16 percent. This should cause serious worry for the Labour party, as the midterm of any party in government typically correlates with decidedly low popular support. To many within the Labour party, the conditions they face now are all too reminiscent of the build up to the disastrous 1983 general election under Michael Foot, whose manifesto was described as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. So what is to blame for this distrust in the public sphere? Many would point to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
From the very moment that he became leader of the opposition in 2015, Mr Corbyn faced resignations from his inherited shadow cabinet. Later, in the summer of this year, the Labour leader faced the almost unprecedented catastrophe of having two thirds of his shadow cabinet resign en masse. This lack of support from Labour MP’s triggered a leadership contest between the incumbent leader and Angela Eagle, who proved equally uninspiring in her platform. Mr Corbyn ultimately won a resounding victory against his sole opponent to the leadership, Owen Smith. Yet even this has not helped to unify the party.
There are several reasons for the widespread, and seemingly endless, criticism leveled at Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Firstly, his numerous questionable links to, and opinions of, organisations such as the IRA, Hezbollah and Hamas, describing the latter groups as being ‘friends’ until recently. This stands somewhat at odds with the opinions of the EU and the US government, who rather less affectionately describe them as terrorist organisations.
The Labour leaders’ outspoken socialist beliefs have also come under attack. The deputy leader, Tom Watson, a notorious Brownite, became embroiled in a public debate with the Labour leader, claiming the party was being influence by Communist ideology. Other incidents, such as Mr Corbyn’s refusal to sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial, has also drawn widespread disapproval. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, loosed blistering attacks on the opposition leader, condemning him for his lack of respect. The wider problem of Jeremy Corbyn being incapable of uniting the Labour Party however, has nothing to do with wearing a ‘proper suit’, or being seen as unpatriotic. Instead, it is due entirely to the Brexit result.
During his time as a councillor, Mr Corbyn voted for Britain to leave the European Union in the 1975 referendum. His change of political belief has also been questioned extensively, with previously trusted allies decrying what they perceive as a total abandonment of his original thinking, which they argue would not have taken place had he not been elected Labour leader. It is no surprise then, that numerous Labour MP’s doubted the sincerity of his campaigning efforts for the Remain camp, which all too often seemed surprisingly lacklustre in their appeal. It was the Labour heartlands of Northern England which proved the most surprising and decisive in the collective British decision to leave the European Union. It is no surprise then, that blame should be levelled at Mr Corbyn, given that these are typically safe Labour seats, who actively voted against their party’s interest.
In the aftermath of the Brexit result, there has also been considerable confusion and disagreement. Jeremy Corbyn had initially vowed to ensure Theresa May’s government would comply with several Labour demands, or face opposition to the triggering of Article 50. However, Tom Watson assured the public afterwards that this would not be the case, and that the Labour party were ‘not going to hold this up’. The Labour leader then shortly followed suit, softening the tone of his original argument, to simply suggest that he would attempt to ensure the party’s demands were taken into account, but would support the triggering of Article 50.
In his final Prime Ministers question time, after he had announced his resignation, David Cameron offered a genuinely unique moment of sincere anger and frustration. ‘It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there, it’s not in the national interest, and I would say, for heaven’s sake man, go!’
So far, Mr Cameron has been correct. Not since the success of the Falklands war has the Conservative party held such dizzyingly high levels of support. David Milliband, brother of former Labour leader Ed Milliband, has said that he is ‘greatly distressed’ at the future of the Labour party. It is clear however, that the majority of registered Labour members support the leadership of Mr Corbyn. Whatever the feelings of the Parliamentary Labour Party, they can no longer hope to provide an effective opposition if they continue to enforce these internal divisions. The party has chosen its leader, and they must respect that decision. Regardless of political orientation, it is in the wider national interest to have a strong opposition, and the Labour party simply hasn’t been providing that in recent months. It is time for them to address this, or risk their existence entirely.
Featured image by: Tsering Lhamo