John McDonnell: Labour will have polling lead over Tories within a year
Labour will overturn the Conservatives’ double-digit polling lead within the next 12 months, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has declared.
An average of recent surveys by Britain Elects shows Labour trailing the Tories by 12 points, but Mr McDonnell predicted a change in fortunes once the debate shifted away from the Government’s Article 50 bill and onto topics like the NHS and the economy.
Mr McDonnell said last summer’s Labour leadership contest had damaged the party’s standing with the public.
“The whole issue is that before Jeremy [Corbyn] was elected, we were 12-14 points behind in the polls and by May of the following year we were either just behind or level or ahead of the Tories in the polls,” he told Radio 5live’s Pienaar’s Politics.
“Then we had the coup and the leadership elections; in the last 18 months, we spent half of them in leadership elections.
“People won’t vote for a divided party, we know that and that’s why we’re behind in the polls.”
Last week’s vote on beginning the process of leaving the European Union led to 47 Labour MPs defying Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to oppose the Government, including three who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet to do so.
Further divisions within Labour are expected to emerge this week, when the Commons will vote on amendments to the bill.
Mr McDonnell said once the legislation had passed it would give Labour the chance to rally round other issues.
“Once we get past Brexit we’ll unite the Labour party, we’ll be back on our agenda and you’ll see, I think, that we’ll have a significant impact upon the political debate in this country which will mean that we’ll go back in front of the Tories in the polls over the next year.”
The Shadow Chancellor said the Stoke Central by-election, where Labour is trying to hold the seat in the face of a strong challenge by Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, would be “masked by the Brexit” issue.
“I think Stoke will be like every other by-election at the moment - it’ll be masked by the Brexit issue. I think the Brexit issue is dominating politics at the moment, but there’s a whole range of other issues, such as what’s happening in the NHS.
“Brexit has dominated politics for the last few months and of course it’ll be important in the coming months as well, but actually other issues are beginning to emerge, you saw that with the NHS and I think that’ll be increasingly true.”