Momentum might being beaten at their own game
Back in 2007 I emailed Mike Smithson: “You should advise your readers: ‘don’t bet on an election unless you understand the voting system’” At the time the pollsters and the bookies were making Alan Johnson favourite to become Labour deputy leader.
I was a member of Harriet Harman’s campaign and I knew how much effort was going into getting second preferences from other candidates. In the event, the second preferences from John Cruddas supporters swung it for Harman.
That was a six horse race. The current election has, of course, only two contenders but the advice about understanding the system holds good. This time punters need to understand the significance of the three sections of voters: members, registered supporters and affiliate supporters.
When the history of the Corbyn era comes to be written the verdict will be that he was toppled because Momentum were beaten at their own game.
By that I mean that the tactic of signing up thousands of supporters who get a vote. It worked brilliantly for Corbyn in 2015 and for months his supporters have been warning off potential challengers – “don’t bother Jeremy will win again”.
But it always seemed possible that a tactic that worked for Corbyn could be used against him. And so it has played out. As I argued in my last PB post the 120,000 new voters recruited by the grassroots campaign Saving Labour are a “game changer.” The election I said was “too close to call” and Corbyn could be in for a shock.
Sad to say John Prescott doesn’t appear to be a reader of PB, telling Mirror readers “Corbyn will win this leadership election as every MP knows”. Lord Prescott is wrong.There is not a scrap of hard evidence that Corbyn will win.
Although a new YouGov survey is under way they are likely to find it challenging to reflect the three sections of the selectorate accurately. For now, their one bit of polling so far, at the end of June ( which was not helpful to Corbyn has whiskers on it. Otherwise all we have had is nods and winks such as the Huffington Post report that “one senior party source” said a majority of the new members are backing Corbyn ‘but only by the tiniest of margins.”
There is, however, a line in the Prescott article that gives a clue to why he and many others are convinced Corbyn’s re-election is inevitable. His lordship speaks of the “the thousands I saw at his mass meeting in Hull”.
In the absence of hard data Prescott and others are relying on circumstantial evidence – the size of campaign meetings and nominations by Constituency Labour Parties.
Both are badly flawed as a guide to the election.
There is no doubt that Corbyn has been speaking to some big meetings. The combined attendance could be well be above 10,000 But there are half a million Labour members and supporters eligible to vote. All the Corbyn rally goers combined are a tiny fraction of that. The vast majority will never go anywhere near a rally. Mainstream media, social media and direct contact will be far more important for them in making up their minds. That is where Smith is concentrating his efforts.
On the face of it Corbyn’s advantage in nominations by CLPs — Constituency Labour Parties — is impressive. He is outpunching Owen Smith by five to one: 273 to Smith’s 51.
But dig below the surface and you see that these figures are telling us nothing about sentiment in the party. What they do reveal is where the Corbyn and Smith campaigns are putting their efforts.
Pushing for nominations has been a priority for the Corbyn campaign with the aim of creating “momentum”. A couple of examples suggest the outcomes are not a good guide to local opinion. Take Canterbury where the meeting voted 91-8 to back Corbyn. This is a party with 1,500 members, so the turnout was 15%. And in a large London party Corbyn won by 274 to 196 but that a was turnout of barely 10% of the 5,000 members.
It’s significant that barely half the 600 plus CLPs have made a nomination – my own party in Tooting hasn’t met even though at a meeting in June we backed the motion of no confidence in Corbyn. Many of the blank areas on the map are Labour held seats. It’s striking that virtually no urban CLPs outside London have nominated. A big bunch of Corbyn nominations come from parties in safe Tory seats, many in places where Labour come in third.
So the circumstantial evidence is unreliable. At the moment the hardest data come from Saving Labour. Their 70,000 new anti-Corbyn registered supporters and the 50,000 affiliated (trade union) supporters offer Owen Smith a path to victory.