Owen Jones has written a reflective piece looking at Labour’s position in the current polling and it has stirred up the usual hornets’ nest of despairing voices. I’ve discussed my views on polling before, so won’t revisit the points I make there, and I can understand that people view Jones as one of the few mainstream voices to speak for Labour, so there is a sensitivity to what he says because it can be seen to undermine Labour’s standing.
My view of Jones’ piece about the current Labour polling is that it’s quite muddled in its analysis, if not its message, and that is why I suspect some people take such issue with his writing. I’m going to start with the message and, for me, the message I would take from his piece is contained within this paragraph:
A clear and unambiguous call for party unity behind the current leadership and a concerted effort to offer a clear and reliable message to the general public. However,
The Parliamentary Labour Party need to avoid doing anything that undermines the leadership: that’s in their interests, because if Labour is heading for a defeat, they need the leadership to own it.
could be read as not a rallying cry for unity so much as a call to not get in the way of a doomed leadership, and that’s how some people will read it. Personally, I think Jones has written an ‘as good as it will currently get’ request. We know there are elements within and attached to Labour who have been and are intent on being actively involved in undermining the current leadership and, in their clumsiness, have been undermining Labour instead. The best we can hope for those people is that they put their mouths into neutral and give it a rest. Sure, we would all like to see everyone in and around Labour to use whatever resources they have to support the party but those who have been briefing against it to their media “buddies” are not likely to do that (not that their buddies will be as interested in supporting Labour as they are in tearing it down).
It is interesting in the above paragraph from Jones’ piece that he draws a distinction of expectation between the membership and the PLP. Jones does not expect that the PLP will work for their own party but Jones hopes the membership will do the groundwork for an election victory. Isn’t that a strange situation for a political party?
The message is often in the eye of the beholder and so it may well be for Jones’ reflection on Labour’s polls. It would be very easy to take a strong anti-Corbyn message from the piece and, I have to say, as someone who is not a ‘Corbynista’ (or whatever facile name awarded to those of us supposedly in the ‘cult’ of Corbyn’s leadership) I do not have a problem with people who question the impact of Corbyn as a figurehead for Labour.
Again, I’ve discussed before that Labour’s electability problem lies squarely with the remnants of the Third Way within Labour who actively undermine the party and brief against it. They have proven that they neither play well with others or that Labour will appeal to the wider electorate while they still have influence within the party. Jones does, just about, touch on the effect of this wrecking element in his analysis:
But he does not acknowledge the effect of this element undermining Corbyn’s leadership since he took office as leader, which is crucial.
Labour, regardless of leader, will continue to suffer at the hands of these same idiots for as long as they ghost the party. It is not just a question of blaming sides, the wreckers have undermined successive leaderships since 2007 and they have adopted a position of opposition within their own party that includes the intentional destruction of Labour’s election chances. What they don’t accept is that the general public rejected their politics, in increasing numbers, from 1997 and they haven’t moved on. Their presence in Labour may be a political reality and it may be more politic to pretend they don’t need to be removed, that their presence can be tolerated, but Jones does not acknowledge that Labour has suffered at the hands of this Third Way.
But let us move on.
Polling isn’t the truth but it is a truth. Jones points out that:
When Labour has a “whopping big lead” it means that the polling companies do not want to embarrass themselves by publishing numbers contrary to the public mood that they are picking up on, if Labour seem to be more than marginally ahead. A “whopping big lead” can probably be trusted as a reflection that the public mood is against the Tories in sufficient numbers that those behind the polling companies do not feel they can try and influence the mood with dodgy polling data.
Polling companies are not all powerful manipulators of public opinion, they can ‘nudge’ close decisions but they can’t steer against strong opinions. You only have to look at the many failed attempts to nudge public opinion in favour of Michael Gove, away from his position as most toxic politician in living memory, to see the limitations of those who seek to sway public opinion.
Which returns us to Jones’ muddled analysis:
there’s not much that can be done about it
Labour faces a battle to overcome a biased media, a media that impacts polling, but there’s nothing to be done about it; unlike the polling the media negatively impacts upon and which is part of the media. It makes little sense.
I said that I did not find Jones’ message to be muddled but I acknowledge it is because I take from his work the information that supports a clear view of what Labour needs to do, and that may not be a perspective that everyone will take. Some will read the piece by Jones and say he is leading to a narrative that a new leader will be needed who can usurp the polling by being a new broom that sweeps the old polling aside with Corbyn. Frankly, I do not have a problem with either that interpretation or the idea itself but with caveats:
1. There will be no leader who can appease the Third Way remnants in Labour and their continued presence in the party will only ever undermine it.
2. The current leadership are offering policies and politics that I and many others support and, if the PLP get behind their leadership, the polls can be turned around.
A time may come when Corbyn, as figurehead of his leadership, cannot surmount the damage inflicted upon Labour by the Third Way within the minds of the electorate and it may then be better to replace him from that position; that is true of any leader but it isn’t where we stand now. Those of us who supported Corbyn’s leadership in 2016 did so because his leadership is offering a Labour politic that we support and believe in and Corbyn’s leadership provides confidence that Labour will not capitulate to those elements that represent a parallel of what the Tories currently offer. If there is a cult of Corbyn then few of us voting for him are part of it but he does offer a tangible bulwark against the carrion of Labour’s Third Way. Those who are currently the most vociferous in their opposition to Corbyn (or, more correctly, most vociferous in their support of their own sense of entitlement to reign over Labour) are the very reason why Corbyn’s leadership must be defended, to provide a genuine opposition to the Tories.
Jones may not view the wreckers of the remnants of Labour’s failed Third Way experiment in the same light as me or he may be smarter, more political, about how he chooses to talk about them, but it makes talking about Labour polling confused if you aren’t acknowledging all of the influences of it. Labour is hurting in the polls because of concerted efforts by elements that won’t be fixed by changing the leader and, while they might make cooing noises towards a “compromise” leader, history has shown that there is only one way for the Third Way and internal destruction is their only alternative. Having said that, Jones is asking very politely that the wreckers at least do nothing to hurt the party, even if they won’t work for their party. We can only hope that Labour excises them if they don’t.