Owen Smith is catching up in the race to be Labour leader in some constituencies, according to a series of polls conducted by Smith-supporting MPs.
Despite lagging well behind Jeremy Corbyn in other polls, Smith backers say he has pulled ahead in various parts of Britain in the last two weeks.
Corbyn has been widely tipped to win the Labour leadership election in a landslide. Betfair give Smith a 12% of winning; Corbyn has gained 285 constituency party nominations, while Smith is on just 53. However some Labour MPs think the race is a great deal closer.
“All the Parliamentary Labour party private polling running into 1000’s shows a much tighter race”, says Graham Jones, Labour MP for Hyndburn, where, he says, the two contenders are neck and neck.
“Much tighter. I don’t know a constituency... being polled where Corbyn is in front. At best he’s neck and neck or Smith has a 20% lead.”
“There is a lot of switching from Jeremy to Owen. Or Jeremy to don’t know”, says Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Hammersmith. According to his poll of members in his constituency ― which, he says, took in 70% of them ― Smith is polling at 59%, Corbyn at 26%, and those who are undecided at 15%.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour’s MP for Exeter, says a curve towards Smith has emerged in the last two weeks. “I have become much more optimistic following phone canvassing of members in the last 10 days”, he says.
Private polling by Labour MPs:
1. Exeter (polling by Ben Bradshaw MP): Smith: 46%, Corbyn: 34%, undecided:18%
2. Hammersmith (polling by Andy Slaughter MP) : Smith: 59%, Corbyn: 26%, undecided: 15%
3. Eltham (polling by Clive Efford MP): Smith: 54% Owen, Corbyn: 42%, undecided: 4%
4. Torfaen (polling by Nick Thomas-Symonds MP): Smith: 63%, Corbyn: 24%, undecided: 13%
5. Edinburgh South (polling by Ian Murray MP): Smith 60%, Corbyn: 24%, undecided: 16%
6. Stoke North (polling by Ruth Smeeth MP): Smith: 43%, Corbyn: 42%, undecided: 16%
7. Illford North (polling by Wes Streeting MP): Smith: 44%, Corbyn: 39%, undecided: 17%
8. Brighton/Kempton/Hove (polling by Peter Kyle MP): Smith: 45%, Corbyn: 55%
9. Bermondsey & Old Southwark (polling by Neil Coyle MP): Smith “comfortably in front”, according to Graham Jones MP
10. Penistone & Stockbridge (polling by Angela Smith): Smith “in front”, according to Graham Jones MP
11. Hyndburn (polling by Graham Jones MP): Smith and Corbyn “neck in neck”, according to Graham Jones MP
12. Tynemouth (polling by Alan Campbell MP): Smith and Corbyn “neck in neck”, according to Graham Jones MP
Mark Jackson, a volunteer conducting research for Labour in Brighton and Hove, says he sees a recent crop of “undecideds” “dropping and breaking towards Owen”. Brighton is a traditionally left wing stronghold, which might be expected to strongly favour Corbyn. But, Jackson says, “it has got relatively close between Jeremy and Owen recently”.
“There is a not insignificant group who voted for Jeremy last time and are not planning to vote for him this time. I think it is certainly not going to be a complete landslide.”
People are changing sides, he says, because “they like Jeremy’s politics but in the last ten or eleven months in terms of practical leadership, they think he has not done well. The second broad theme is dissatisfaction from people on the EU referendum and the campaign for that”.
According to Bradshaw, the most common reason given by Labour members in Exeter who favour Smith is “electability”. “The second is unity. Those two things are connected. The third, quite a way behind, is Brexit”, he says.
Corbyn’s office remains confident of victory, and private polling has proved unreliable in the past. But Labour MPs argue that this time their research is based on a wider sample of Labour members than other polls.
“I completely accept that these findings might be exceptional - but it’s quite a high level of sampling”, says Bradshaw. “I predicted previous Labour leaderships correctly based on my canvassing.”
Jones reckons Smith supporters have only emerged in recent days. “The hard to contacts are solid Smith and the easy to contacts are solid Corbyn”, he says.
Saving Labour, a pro-Smith group, recently said it has recruited 70,000 of 140,000 of Labour’s registered supporters, who, it says, are likely to vote for Smith.