Keiran Pedley assesses the importance of a recent poll of LabourList readers that shows Andy Burnham the clear front-runner for the Labour leadership but with Liz Kendall in a stronger position than you might think.
As the Labour Party leadership campaign gathers pace, we are gradually building a picture of what the contest will look like. Right now, it seems that there are three serious candidates that can win, with a maximum of four likely to take part. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper seem certain to make the contest, Liz Kendall looks likely too but there are some question marks over whether or not Mary Creagh will make the ballot.
Given that the polling industry has collectively gone to sit in a corner and think about what it has done there is not much polling out there on the candidates so far (yet). However, LabourList has released the results from a survey of 2,274 of its readers today. The findings are interesting.
As LabourList sensibly acknowledge in their write-up, there are plenty of reasons to be cautious about this poll. It is an online, self-selecting sample of LabourList readers and therefore almost certainly not representative of those that will vote in the eventual leadership contest. We should always be very cautious with such polls. Who can forget, for example, the survey of Sun Readers that showed UKIP in second place nationally that was presented by some as a proper nationally representative voting intention poll? Put simply therefore, these are not poll results you can â€˜take to the bankâ€™ (of course the unkind among you may ask what are these days!).
In fact, I suspect that we are going to have to be cautious about any poll produced on the subject of the Labour leadership race. The ballot itself will be conducted among Labour Party members and affiliates. It is highly doubtful that nationally representative surveys conducted by pollsters are going to be able to adequately sample this audience. A simple Labour voter cross-break in a standard voting intention poll is not going to cut it. This does not mean that surveys produced tell us nothing but it does mean we should be careful in how much significance that we place on them. Perhaps then, polls such as this one produced by LabourList are as good as any we can use to understand what is happening.
With such caveats in mind, what does this survey tell us? Well, it confirms what we already knew, which is that Andy Burnham is most definitely the front runner. This will no doubt help the Burnham campaign reinforce such a perception among MPs as they consider who to support. Of course, the front-runner position is not always a comfortable place to be (just ask David Miliband) but Burnham supporters will be heartened at such a convincing lead in this survey nonetheless.
However, this survey should also give significant heart to the Kendall campaign too. To be second, at this early stage, ahead of Yvette Cooper, is a great place to be for a relative newcomer to frontline Labour politics. Other than just being second place with a long way to go there are other aspects of the survey results that should boost the Kendall campaign too. Importantly, this survey does not ask respondents to rank their preferred candidates in order, a likely crucial factor in the result of the leadership contest. We do not know where Yvette Cooperâ€™s support in the above example would go. Also, a large number of respondents chose â€˜otherâ€™ (22%) when asked which candidate they prefer. In some respects, this does not reflect well on any of the current crop of candidates. However, one of them has to win and this group selecting â€˜otherâ€™ represent a large group of potential untapped support for each candidate to win over. Of course, there is no evidence that Liz Kendall should disproportionally benefit from 2nd preferences or â€˜othersâ€™ being reallocated but the point is merely that there are votes out there to be won. Andy Burnhamâ€™s position is not unassailable.
Of course, Liz Kendallâ€™s candidature has its own limitations too. For a start, she will have to make sure she gets on the ballot in the first place and Labour members are entitled to wonder whether backing a candidate that cannot command large amounts of support in the PLP is wise. Furthermore, she will need to be careful that she does not run too far to the right of the party. A common refrain from some of the Labour Left on twitter is â€˜what difference is there between her and the Tories?â€™ There is a delicate balancing act to be struck here between (rightly) taking Labour out of its comfort zone but also in ensuring that the party is willing to come with you. With this in mind, I expect her to start attacking the Conservatives with gusto in the coming weeks.
So overall, at this early stage, the contest is up for grabs. Given sample considerations and the fact that this poll recorded so many preferences for â€˜otherâ€™ whilst not asking respondents to rank their choices, there are enough unknowns to suggest that each of the leading candidates has a chance. Burnham is of course favourite. He is clearly ahead among MPs and party members and if he takes enough second preferences and â€˜othersâ€™ he will be the next Labour Leader. Also, it is likely that the above poll skews London so his current position could be stronger than even this 11 point lead suggests. Nevertheless, he is not inevitable. If Liz Kendall can make the ballot, this poll gives enough encouragement to her supporters that she can compete and win. The idea of a â€˜fresh startâ€™ is likely to be a potent message to Labour members. Finally, letâ€™s not forget, it could also be that Yvette Cooper, relatively quiet until now, emerges as something of a â€˜consensus candidateâ€™ between the Labour â€˜Leftâ€™ and â€˜Rightâ€™. The fascinating aspect of this race we cannot call yet is who makes the final two and where do second preferences go. The final outcome is not yet clear, there is a long way to go yet.
Keiran Pedley is an Associate Director at GfK NOP and presenter of the podcast â€˜Polling Mattersâ€™. He tweets about politics and polling at @keiranpedley.