A new YouGov poll commissioned by The Times has put Labour in fourth place on 18% – the lowest level of support in polling history. It has only hit this mark once before: in 2009, with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, soon after the UK economy was officially said to be in recession. What does this mean for the party?
In terms of internal machinations, Corbynsceptics now have further reason to believe the leadership must change and anti-Brexit activists are equipped with more evidence that Labour’s Brexit position isn’t working. But all those with some understanding of the current state of the party will also know that Jeremy Corbyn is only going to step down when he so desires. Remainers, meanwhile, have already won the battle for a public vote on any deal.
In terms of electoral prospects, obviously the outlook isn’t sunny. But polls must be taken with a large pinch of salt, particularly at the moment when they are incredibly volatile. Pollsters readily admit as much. It’s worth keeping in mind the arguments of Ian Warren, a.k.a. @election_data, which were outlined on LabourList last month. He noted the state of flux and concluded that “even the best of projections should carry health warnings”.
As for substance and policy. Is it that voters don’t like what Labour is selling, or that they don’t know enough about the offers? There is a persistent assumption on the left that Labour could bounce back during purdah – the pre-election period during which voters tune back into politics, public resources are not allowed to be used for party political purposes and broadcasters must give “due weight” to coverage of larger parties. Basically, when Labour is offered a fair hearing. This 2017 effect could very well be repeated, but the snap election campaign also benefited from an excited mood in the party, which is sorely lacking now.
It’s crucial to note, however, that the political landscape is about to change in a significant way. Boris Johnson is expected to be our next Prime Minister. Speculation that he could be immediately prevented from taking up the post aside, the maverick poses a serious threat to Labour and Corbyn’s appeal. As Sabrina Huck explored this week, Labour has encouraged an anti-establishment, anti-elite feeling in the country, which unfortunately could be exploited by Johnson just as well as Nigel Farage. The Tory leadership frontrunner is seen as a rebel, an anti-authoritarian figure, and will be portrayed as a fighter for freedom (i.e. advocate of low taxes).
On the other hand, his premiership will revitalise Labour’s activist base. There is also a chance he could re-polarise politics and recalibrate it such that the two-party system is restored, with Remainers repulsed by his leadership and persuaded to back Labour in the knowledge that first-past-the-post is still in place. Labour’s expected shift towards Remain would compound this reaction. It’s all change here.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.