Friday, 1 July 2022 – 15:33

Nothing left for Labour to do… except hold their nerve

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

The latest polls make for grim reading for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour has crashed to fourth place in the polls, with an underwhelming 18% approval rating – its joint lowest, matched only by Gordon Brown’s Labour in the post-financial crisis climate.

A dissection of the figures adds to the desolation. At the start of the year, according to polls, 48% of remain voters supported Labour, but it has now plunged to 25%.

Likewise, only 8% of leavers are giving Labour their support, a significant drop from 21% in January.

This comes in light of John Ashworth’s sentiments. The Shadow Health Secretary urged Corbyn to end the ambivalence by explicitly expressing Labour’s support for a public vote and a definitive remain campaign.

With the country split right down the middle as a result of the polarised and the hostile climate Brexit has given birth to, the job on Labour’s, and specifically, Corbyn’s hands, is complicated.

The Liberal Democrats and the Greens have benefited profoundly whilst Labour have been in freefall. Both parties robustly champion a peoples vote and remaining in the European Union, as embellished by the Lib Dems European Elections rallying cry ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ – the slogan that was visible on their MEP’s shirts worn on the first day of the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, the Brexit Party, headed by lifelong Euroskeptic Nigel Farage are also ransacking Labour and the Conservatives for support. In second place in the latest polls, with a 20% approval rating, their firm ‘no deal Brexit’ stance is garnering significant backing.

The ascendancy of the Lib Dems, the Greens and the Brexit party and the plummeting of the mainstream Labour and Conservative parties emerged in the local council elections in early May, and was consolidated in the European Parliament elections when the parties with an unyielding stance on Brexit – the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems and the Greens, all increased their vote share, whilst Labour and the Conservatives faced humiliating nights.

Indeed, an Opinium poll conducted recently showed in the UK, the percentage of those ‘supportive of a Brexit where the UK is closely aligned with the EU’ is at a measly 13%, whereas an equal share – 39% – backed an unambiguous approach, either remaining in the EU or leaving with a clean break.

Palpably, there is no appetite for compromise. But that is exactly what Labour’s manifesto promises, with a pledge to retain the benefits of the single market and customs union – the standpoint that assisted them in amassing significant support in the 2017 general election.

But hardened stances have meant that is seemingly no longer attractive. But a dilemma still remains. With the Conservative Party leadership contest approaching its conclusion, a general election is likely to follow.

So what is Labour’s best bet to avoid a landslide defeat?

Estimations show that whilst Labour’s overall base supports remaining in the EU, during the 2016 referendum, 61% of Labour constituencies voted to leave.  Therefore, abandoning one side of the spectrum would be electoral suicide and would almost certainly trigger sentiments of betrayal.

Rather, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn can be encouraged by and take heed from the Peterborough by-election victory. In a seat where 60.9% of the population voted leave, Labour’s campaign was fought on issues that worried local voters, such as soaring crime rates, fly-tipping and the state of local schools.

This illustrated that whilst Brexit is still paramount and requires addressing, when the focus shifts away from it and on to the social issues, many of which are a direct consequence of the Conservatives brutal austerity, Labour offer refreshing alternatives.

Indeed, an exclusive survey by BMG research group found that in comparison to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the two Conservative MP’s, one of whom will soon be Prime Minister, Corbyn is seen as the most able to understand the problems of the ordinary people. The Peterborough by-election victory was a testament to that.

Thus, the pressure to throw their weight behind a stance will continue to besiege Labour, but if there is a general election around the corner, Labour may well have to hold their Brexit nerve for now and then revisit their Peterborough strategy for when that time arrives.


Photo: Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, 2018 | Credit: Sophie Brown [CC BY-SA 4.0]











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