Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The cost of Corbyn: how Labour's woes are Britain's woes

Every now and then you get a new batch of statistics which are actually interesting. Today we had two.

The first was the revelation, from a study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It showed that real wages had fallen in Britain by 10% since the start of the credit crunch in 2007, with only Greece among the advanced economies faring worse. By comparison, real wages grew by 14% in Germany and 11% in France. Indeed, they grew by 23% in Poland: any Brit whose main concern is with high numbers of Polish immigrants, rather than, say, how their own living standards are falling, then they can relax. Far fewer will be coming as the wage differential narrows. Indeed, my wife has met several Brits working in Poland during her own business visits to Kraków in recent months.

A joy for Xenophobes: as they watch their living standards continuing to decline, they can at least take comfort from the falling numbers of Poles entering the country.

The more significant message of the drop is that it confirms what most of us no doubt guessed: it’s anybody who relies on wages, rather than income from capital, who’s footing the bill for the Tory obsessions with austerity.

Fortunately, we have a clear alternative to that policy. Labour is temporarily preoccupied with a leadership contest, but both candidates – the present leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the challenger, Owen Smith – are equally wedded to putting an end to austerity. We desperately need someone to do that. Despite Tory promises, austerity hasn’t dented the national debt and growth has remained at anaemic levels. The only impact has been to impoverish us all – first morally, as the most vulnerable members of society, the disabled, the long-term sick, the unemployed, the working poor – found all help being withdrawn; but now, we see, materially as well as our incomes are pared down.

So let’s get the Tories out and Labour back to fix the problem.

Sadly, that’s where we hit the other piece of news, and it’s far from good. The Tories, under their ‘new’ leader – the quotation marks are there because she’s been Home Secretary for the last six years, so she’s hardly new to government – are now 12 points ahead of Labour in the latest YouGov poll.

By way of contrast, at this stage in the 1979-1983 parliament, Labour had a high single-figure lead, but went on to be crushed in 1983. In the 1992-1997 parliament, which ended with the 1997 landslide for Labour, the lead at this point was in the high teens or low twenties.

It’s too early to make anything much of that. A new Tory leader, a new Prime Minister, was bound to get a boost in the polls. We have to wait and see how things go in the next few months to see where they settle. Even so, any lead when the Tories should be behind, is desperately bad news for Labour.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will point out that the attacks on him by his parliamentary colleagues, and the current leadership contest, will have undermined Labour’s position, adding to the Theresa May effect. Except that even before the rebellion against him, the Tories already had a six-point lead. Since the Brexit vote, in which Corbyn played a lamentably low-key role, the gap has merely increased.

To heap on further bad news, the YouGov poll found that only 18% of voters favoured Corbyn as Prime Minister, against 52% for May.

Amazing. Despite falling wages and collapsing public services,
voters still prefer her to him
Worst of all, 29% of people who voted Labour in 2015 say that they prefer May as Prime Minister to Corbyn. That’s a loss of over 2.5 million votes.

That, Labour members need to bear in mind, is the cost of insisting on retaining a Leader voters simply don’t see as a potential Prime Minister.

Corbyn’s followers keep telling me that what matters is that Corbyn has the right policies. I also keep hearing that we need to get away from an approach that’s too focused on winning elections at all costs.

There’s truth in that. But, as should be obvious, Labour’s great achievements only came with victory. Labour was down to 154 MPs after the 1935 election. After winning 393 seats in 1945, it created the NHS in 1948. A triumph now being undermined by austerity, and which can only be defended with power.

In opposition, policies may be wonderful, but they’re just wishful thinking. In government, they can change society.

In any case, as Corbyn shows, it isn’t policies that persuade voters. It’s perceptions. The YouGov poll shows how poorly Corbyn is perceived.

A couple of million votes down? If we had to face anything like that Corbyn price at the next General Election, we might see UKIP winning seats and Labour down again to its levels in 1935. Or worse.

It’s true Labour went on to win a landslide in 1945. But that meant waiting ten years.

With services like the NHS being ground out of existence and, as the TUC has now confirmed, real wages on a downward slope, do we really want to wait that long?

No comments: