POLITICS

John McDonnell Admits Labour 'Miles Behind' In General Election Polls But Says Numbers Are Wrong

Party sources: local elections will show the real picture

26/04/2017 11:28 BST | Updated 26/04/2017 17:17 BST

John McDonnell has told Labour not to worry about being “miles behind” in the polls - because the numbers should not be believed.

The Shadow Chancellor hit out as a senior party source also cast doubt on the opinion polls that have given the Tories leads of more than 20 points in recent weeks.

A string of polls has put Theresa May on course for an increased Tory majority in the June 8 general election, with some projecting a landslide of more than 100 seats.

A new Ipsos/MORI poll for the London Evening Standard gave May the highest ‘best leader’ score in its history, beating even Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at their peak. Corbyn has one of the lowest personal ratings of any leader.

But a rally for the Communication Workers Union in Bournemouth on Tuesday night, McDonnell dismissed the recent rash of dire polling figures.

“We now how tough this election is going to be, yes we are miles behind in the polls, but who believes the polls anymore?” he said.

“They got it wrong at the last election, they got it wrong in the referendum and God help us they got it wrong with Trump”.

McDonnell said the election was a chance to “kill off” neoliberalism in the UK and “change the world” by electing Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. He urged Labour supporters not to let the “establishment smash us”.

A senior source close to Jeremy Corbyn also cast doubt on the polls and predicted that the local elections on May 4 – where the party is facing a challenge in the county council elections - would be a better guide.

“Let’s see what happens in the local elections. That might be an interesting measure of how things are going more generally and how accurate the polls are.”

The source added: “We’ve all come to understand that polling has a pretty chequered record recently.

“I don’t think it’s just a technical issue to do with polling companies’ failures. I think it’s to do with the period of politics that we are in. It’s a much more volatile and fluid political situation with much more fragmentation.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the STUC conference in Aviemore during the campaign.

And the source suggested the polls would narrow, as Labour’s policies would ‘have an impact’ because in an election the public heard the party’s message “in a less mediated way”.

“We obviously have the fight of our lives on our hands, but I think it’s clear that as Labour is able to speak with its own voice in this election campaign in a way that hasn’t been entirely the case for the previous 18 months, I think the public will respond to what are very popular policies that we will be setting out to transform the way Britain is run for the many, not the few.”

Both Labour and the Tories have played up the idea that the numbers could be misleading.

The Conservatives worry complacency amongst Tory voters could cause many to not bother turning out - reducing the chances of May winning a sizeable majority.

PA Wire/PA Images
Theresa May in Wales

The PM used a rally in Wales on Tuesday to warn that a Corbyn premiership was a real threat.

“Make no mistake – it could happen. Remember, the opinion polls were wrong in the last general election. They were wrong in the referendum.

“Jeremy Corbyn has said he was a 200/1 outsider to become Labour leader… look where that one went.”

For its part Labour wants its activists and voters to not give up hope in the face of an apparent lost cause.

An Ipsos MORI poll released today showed the Conservative party standing at 49% (up 6 points from March) while Labour trail at 26% (down 4) 0 a 23-point lead for May.

Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at the polling company said the Tory focus on comparing May to Corbyn “seems to be working for them”.

“The commitment of their supporters is also striking, compared with other parties – once again, especially to Theresa May’s leadership. This has all helped them to match the biggest lead we’ve ever recorded for the Conservatives in an election campaign, back in 1983,” he said.

However just as McDonnell has questioned the accuracy of polls, the prime minister told a Tory election rally yesterday that the figures should be treated with caution. 

“Remember the opinion polls were wrong in the general election the were wrong in the referendum last year and Jeremy Corbyn himself has said he was a 200-1 outsider for the Labour leadership in 2015 and look how that one went,” she said.

May has also told a meeting of her political cabinet that the polls had been “proved wrong repeatedly” in recent elections, her spokesman said.

PA Wire/PA Images
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell

In his speech last night, McDonnell said Labour needed to “expose the brutality of this government”.

“We need a bit of courage sometimes. When they are coming at you, the media and all else, you need a bit of courage to stand up against the stream,” he said.

“In a few weeks time we have the opportunity that some of us have worked all our lives for,” McDonnell said. “We have the opportunity to take an enormous step to change the world, to elect what I thought could never happen a few years ago, to elect a socialist as a the prime minister of this country.

“We have the opportunity to kill off an ideology that has dominated political and economic thought in this country for the last decade if not beyond. It’s called neoliberalism, trickle down economics, where the theory is if you cut the taxes for the rich somehow this money will trickle down to the rest of society. That experiment has been going on for years and it failed and we know it’s failed.”

He added: “In a few weeks time we have an opportunity to kick these Tories out and we are going to replace them, and this is not complicated, we are going to replace them with a new economic system,” he said.

McDonnell said there would “days of celebrations for millions of families” under a Labour government and attacked the “outright brutal assault on disabled people in this country” by the Conservatives under David Cameron and May.

The shadow chancellor was joined on the stage by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, who he compared to Nye Bevan, the Labour minister who helped create the NHS.

“The Attlee government was famous for the NHS, the Corbyn government will be famous for the National Education Service. In the Attlee government, Nye Bevan delivered the NHS, our Nye Bevan is here tonight, Angela Rayner is going to deliver the National Education Service.”