As CLP nominations close, with Jeremy Corbyn leading, Labour members must remember that its electoral fortunes can get worse as well as better
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for the New Statesman in which I argued that JeremyÂ Corbyn was not the answer to Labourâ€™s problems. Last week I was interviewed about it on theÂ BBC and you can see the clip here. My reasoning is pretty straightforward, Labour can only win ifÂ its leader is seen as a credible Prime Minister in Âwaiting and the Labour Party regains public trustÂ on the economy. I think a Corbyn Âled Labour solves neither of these problems â€“ in fact I think itÂ would make things worse.
This week, a Labour supporting colleague that had seen my clip cornered me at work and saidÂ something that I thought was interesting:
â€œThe thing you have to understand Keiran is that none of them can win anyway, so we might asÂ well vote for Jeremy Corbynâ€.
I was taken aback by this view but it turns out that it might be more widespread than I thought. InÂ this weekâ€™s New Statesman podcast, Stephen Bush described several conversations he has hadÂ with people in Labour that said exactly the same thing. Many members do not think that any ofÂ the candidates can win in 2020 so they reason that they might as well â€˜vote with their heartâ€™.
This is a really dangerous mindset for the Labour Party to be in. Assuming it is true thatÂ Labour simply cannot win in 2020 (I disagree), Labour members have to realise that thereÂ are different degrees of defeat. For example, a Conservative majority of 80 has veryÂ different implications for Labourâ€™s long term prospects than a minority ConservativeÂ Government. Labour cannot assume that because it got 30% of the vote in 2015 that theÂ only way is up. Labour can lose votes too and the leader it chooses will be vital to whetherÂ things get better or worse.
In short, 2020 cannot be treated as a â€˜free hitâ€™ because Labour wonâ€™t win anyway. Things couldÂ get worse and Labour would then be further away from government than it is now.
My view is that if Labour puts forward a hardÂleft platform to the country it will do little to solve itsÂ problems in Scotland â€“ as BES data has shown this week â€“ but it will further alienate EnglishÂ voters and mean that the Conservatives increase their majority in 2020. Labourâ€™s â€˜ScotlandÂ problemâ€™ is a difficult one to solve but I am sceptical simply promising to â€˜oppose austerityâ€™ and scrap Trident will solve it. Meanwhile, such a platform will give the new Conservative leader a veryÂ easy General Election campaign to fight in England. He or she can present â€˜ConservativeÂ securityâ€™ versus â€˜Labour riskâ€™ again â€“ just as the Conservatives did with such success in 2015.
To win again Labour needs to form a new electoral coalition large enough to win 35Â-40% of theÂ popular vote. It cannot realistically do so without winning over some Conservative voters â€“ manyÂ of whom will have voted Labour in the past. Of course, winning over nonÂvoters, Lib Dems,Â Greens, SNP and UKIP supporters will help too but it is a fantasy to think victory can be achievedÂ with this group alone. Once you accept this reality, it is very hard to make an argument thatÂ Jeremy Corbyn is the man for the job.
But whatever you think about the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party â€“ and IÂ have made my thoughts pretty clear â€“ the one thing Labour members must always remember isÂ that there is no guarantee of things getting better from here. If they do get worse, suddenly 2025 willÂ not be winnable either and people will question if Labour can ever win again. Labour membersÂ have a serious choice to make when choosing the next leader and win or lose in 2020 that choiceÂ has significant long term implications for the party. If you are voting in the contest, whoever youÂ plan on supporting, it is worth keeping that in mind.
Keiran Pedley is an elections and polling expert at GfK and presenter of the podcastÂ â€˜Polling Mattersâ€™. He tweets about polls and politics at @keiranpedley