Six Months of Disaster but the Tories Hold Firm

Six months after the election, politics has stopped making sense.  I was discussing  with a friend why predictions are so off beam, and  he told me the following story. When his first wedding anniversary was due, he treated his missus to Christmas in New York.. Wanting to make it special, he covered every angle including the  accident statistics and the chances of snow on Christmas Day, shows on Broadway and taxis from and to the airports.

The start of trip went well, so as the plane rose into the sky he finally relaxed. Until,  at about 20,000 feet, his wife turned to him and smiling sweetly asked “Darling, did you turn all the water taps off when we left the house?”. No he had not. And it was turning frosty…*

People are good at remembering what to do after the event. In politics its usually only after losing an election that there is any debate on what they did wrong. And for Labour since 2015, the solution prevented the analysis. Once the leader was changed, the party assumed it had the winning formula. Indeed most political activists spend their time wondering what to do in power. Planning what to do in the Big Apple, painting the town Red. As far as I can see, most activists assume the opposition will play into their hands so victory is guaranteed.  What is happening on the ground is not an issue.

Most would not go as far as Anthony Barnett in his Compass blog, who as I noted on 14th November, said that after five years, Labour will be in power, indeed winning is the easy bit.  Labour does not intend to wait, to judge by the rush to select in marginal seats. Some commentators would agree victory could come soon as the Tories seem to be on the verge of collapse.

However, Labour has a major problem before it can take off and fly to the promised land.  The opinion polls since the disasterous Tory election campaign are only marginally in favour of Labour. Given the chaos in Number 10, how come Labour is not well ahead? And what can progressives do to prevent the Tories winning election #4?

The polls in November

On November 19th the Opinium poll in the Observer confirmed the pattern set after the June 8th election – Labour slightly ahead but the Tories holding on 40% or above  keeping them in touch with Corbyn and Co.

Previously the November 10th YouGov  poll for the Times had Labour ahead by 3  points – 43% to 40%, with Lib Dems on 6%. The fieldwork was right in the middle of the Priti Patel row, but there is no real sign that the electors know or care about the ministerial resignations and  that this is the most incompetent government in living memory.

The same pattern is shown with Theresa May. In the YouGov poll her approval ratings are negative but the UK Polling Report commentator said they “Show no signs of collapse”. 31% thought she did well, 55%  badly – 4 points down from the previous month – 29% thought she was a strong leader, (up 1%) while 49% think she is weak (down 3%), and while 43% think she is competent, only 38% think she is incompetent, (down 3%).

The context is the lack of interest most people have in politics. At the height of the Patel affair, 17% thought May should stay, 30% should go and 53% had no view. The writer said rightly “Tory incompetence won’t hurt Tory support among people who are unaware of it”.

Is there a Corbyn Effect?

Corbyn has an uphill struggle on his hands. Of Tory vorers, only 7% said Tory support  was because they agreed with the aims and thought they were being delivered, while 19% thought the Tories were incompetent and did not agree with their aims, but would still vote for them – to keep Corbyn out of #10. If Labour cannot win Tory voters, they have to take support from the minor parties.

I have yet to see data on the Labour Party, and it would seem that Corbyn has firm control of the Party as members were largely happy with his performance even in the dark days before the June election. At one point even his key union backer Len McLuskey was suggesting that the top two would have to go if “we get to 2019 and the opinion polls were still awful… these two are not egomaniacs, they are not desperate to hang on to power for power’s sake”. (Times 3rd January 2017, reported statement of 2nd January). At that time Labour were on 24% and the Fabian General Secretary was quoted as saying “Labour is on track  to win fewer than 200 seats,whether the next election comes this year or in 2020….” We all know what happened after that prediction, and the 2017 election  delivered the Party to the Corbynistas. Whether this will last is unknown, but in 2018 the Corbynistas will retain total control of Labour’s fortunes.

What happens then is an open Question, but Brexit will define the options. It is for May to fail to deliver, and there is nothing Labour can do but stick and twist. Either the Tories will split and deny May key votes – and the visciousness of the attacks on Tory dissidents tells its own tale, Anna Soubry MP. blamed death threats on the attack dogs of the Daily Telegraph citing named MPs on ,with the Mail and its own attack dogs demanding other Tory MPs be pushed out for being pro EU, and this may deter Tory splits. This raises the whole poisoned chalice of Brexit, where Labour’s  position will be harder and harder to sustain as the vote on the Deal comes nearer, but at this point the Brexit issue makes any analysis a journey on the Star Ship Enterprise.

But one thing is clear. In an age of surge politics, the Labour surge of 2016 which put on 16% points in the polls, largely at the expense of the minor parties, has plateaued. Whether it can make further gains, having made the most of its metropolitan base, is to be decided. Labour may think it has lifted off for the Big Apple. But what has it left behind on the ground?

Trevor Fisher

November 2017

* the point being that the pipes froze, burst, and the house was flooded when they got home

 

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