ANALYSIS: Those who say the ICM poll means Corbyn must go are missing the point

Posted On: 
26th July 2016

Today’s ICM opinion poll giving the Conservatives a 16-point lead over Labour has provoked a predictable reaction from many on the centre-left.

Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn were close comrades
Credit: 
PA Images

“This is why Corbyn has got to go,” one tweeted, while another opted for the more succinct “F*****g hell, resign Corbyn!”

But to assume one truly horrific set of polling figures will finally persuade the Labour leader that the game is up is to misjudge the mindset of the hard-left.

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Labour’s 27% may look bad when compared to the Tories’ 43%, but it’s frankly miraculous when you consider that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – which recently condemned the “Blairite coup” against Corbyn – attracted 0.1% of the vote in the 2015 general election.

In a strange quirk of fate, Labour’s poll rating is almost identical to the party’s performance in 1983 – regularly held up as the benchmark by which all other general election disasters should be judged. Coincidentally, it is also the day when Corbyn first became an MP.

It’s worth remembering the reaction of Tony Benn – a close political ally of Corbyn at the time – to that calamitous performance, when Labour won just 209 seats and the Tories secured a 144-seat majority.

“The general election of 1983 has produced one important result that has passed virtually without comment in the media,” said Benn. “It is that, for the first time since 1945, a political party with an openly socialist policy has received the support of over eight and a half million people.

“This is a remarkable development by any standards and it deserves some analysis … the 1983 Labour manifesto commanded the loyalty of millions of voters and a democratic socialist bridge-head in public understanding and support can be made.”

Keen-eyed observers will note that it was another 14 years before the party – this time in the guise of the centrist New Labour – was once again trusted with power by the British public.

Jon Lansman, chairman of the Corbyn-supporting campaign group Momentum, recently revealed the dim view that many on the far-left have of the grubby business of electoral success.

In an admirably honest tweet, the veteran Bennite said: “Democracy gives power to people. “Winning” is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves”.

At least Lansman would have been happy with the ICM poll. If it’s in any way accurate, “winning” is not something Labour needs to worry about for quite some time.

A big fan of his personal mandate, Corbyn is not going to give in any time soon. Especially when some of his most hardened critics within the PLP expect him to comfortably see off the challenge of Owen Smith.

“He’s going to win with an increased majority,” one told me this week. When asked what would happen next, the MP said: “I expect we’ll go again and again and again and again.”

They may have to. John McDonnell suggested at the weekend that Corbyn would at least call it a day should Labour lose the next election. But he left enough wriggle-room for his old comrade to stay in post by pointing out that losing leaders “usually” stand down.

On a uniform swing, 46 Labour MPs would lose their seats based on the ICM poll findings. Among those who would go are Wes Streeting, Jamie Reed, John Woodcock and Tom Blenkinsop, a quartet for whom ‘Core Group Hostile’ fails to properly describe their loathing for Team Corbyn.

Losing them from his backbenches would cause the Labour leader no sleepless nights and could even be seen as advancing the cause of socialism. That, after all, is what “winning” is all about.