THE BLOG

Under Jeremy Corbyn, There's a Chasm Between Labour Members and the General Public

23/02/2016 17:02 | Updated 23 February 2017

Jeremy Corbyn has long said that Labour party members will determine policy. The poll I released this week in conjunction with YouGov lifts the lid on the policy views of the Labour party membership, revealing a party which is ill at ease with majority opinion in the country at large.

On issues such as immigration, public spending, the renewal of Trident, foreign policy, the environment, defence and terrorism the Labour party membership appears to hold wildly opposing views to the British public. For example only one in six (16%) Labour party members believe immigration to be even in the top three most important issues facing the country, compared to 60% of the British public. Over three-quarters (78%) of Labour party members say immigration is good for Britain's economy whereas only a quarter (29%) of the British public agree do. Time and again the pattern is repeated; the Labour party membership see an issue one way, the British public see it almost exactly the other way.

Over two-thirds (68%) of Labour party members oppose the renewal of Trident, compared to just over a quarter of the British public (29%). An astonishing 84% of those members which voted for Corbyn oppose the renewal of Trident. Two-thirds (64%) of Labour members believe public services cannot be made better without spending more money compared to 57% of the general public who think they can. Almost two-thirds of Labour members think trade unions should have more influence compared to 24% of the British public. The Labour members think the United States is not a force for good in the world; the British public think the opposite. The list goes on.

If Mr Corbyn is true to his word we should expect the Labour party to oppose the renewal of Trident because the members say so; to continue to support free movement and access to benefits for EU migrants because the members say so; to commit to public spending increases and reject the need for further cuts in public spending because the members say so; to distance itself from the 'special relationship' with the United States (Labour party members don't see the United States as a force for good in the world); for trade unions to exert more influence over political decisions because that's what the members want.

This chasm between the views of his membership and opinion in the country at large shouldn't trouble Mr Corbyn. After all, as my poll has shown, he retains the overwhelming support of the membership of the party. In a mock leadership ballot I found Mr Corbyn would win a future leadership contest with 62% of first preferences from members, up from the 59.5% he received in September. Almost three-quarters (72%) of the membership approve of him as leader (17% disapprove). However as with the major issues facing the country the membership of the party finds itself out of tune with popular opinion even on this, because less than a quarter (23%) of the public approve of Mr Corbyn (47% disapprove).

Given the approval ratings Mr Corbyn achieves amongst the members one would expect them to be optimistic about his chances of winning the next general election. However 41% of the Labour party membership don't believe he will win in 2020. All of which leaves the party in the unenviable position of having a leader who is wildly popular amongst a membership which expects to lose. A party whose membership appears happy to inform policy, no matter how unpopular those policies might be, and which doesn't appear too fussed about winning an election.

Opponents of Mr Corbyn within the party will point to these findings as evidence that the party is sleepwalking into electoral disaster and oblivion. Some have suggested that Labour's performance in May's local elections could provide the impetus for a leadership challenge to Mr Corbyn. The poll provides some support here, revealing that 40% of the membership think Mr Corbyn should step down at some point before the next election if Labour performs poorly in May. Not only that but if he were replaced the poll also finds that many of the members which came to the party with Corbyn would either leave the party or refuse to vote in a subsequent leadership election, something which wouldn't displease elements in the party.

Supporters of John McDonnell who hope he will be coronated as Mr Corbyn's successor find little comfort in the poll. Only 40% of those voters which voted for Mr Corbyn in September would vote for Mr McDonnell in a subsequent leadership ballot. In addition whilst Mr McDonnell would lead on first preferences with 29% my analysis shows that he would find it hard to become leader of the party given the way the second preferences would break. If neither Mr McDonnell nor Mr Corbyn appear on the ballot the leadership contest would, at present, be a close contest between Tom Watson, Dan Jarvis and Hillary Benn.

Whatever the next few weeks and months bring it is clear that, for the time being, Mr Corbyn carries the overwhelming support of his membership. If leadership challenges are afoot it is difficult to see how a candidate from the centre or centre-right of the party would command the confidence of a party which is so strongly aligned with its leader. In the meantime the party risks moving inexorably further away from the British public, and we all know how total their verdict can be.

Interesting times.

Ian Warren is an elections analyst, political consultant and worked for the Labour Party during the last General Election