LONDON — Labour is anything up to 18% behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls and has just suffered one of the worst by-election defeats in British electoral history.
On Tuesday the Shadow Brexit secretary told journalists that the party currently has “no prospect” of winning the next general election. Meanwhile, the Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has claimed that there is a “soft coup” underway against Jeremy Corbyn by Labour MPs and the “Murdoch empire”.
So who does Corbyn think is to blame for this dire situation and how does he believe he can turn it around? Here’s what a senior source close to the Labour leader told a briefing attended by Business Insider on Wednesday.
Does Corbyn agree that Labour has “no prospect” of winning the general election?
“Well if you look at what Keir Starmer said, it was that if nothing changes then Labour won’t be winning a general election. Obviously, if the current levels of support in the opinion polls were to continue then that would clearly be the case, but we are confident that that level of support will change and the gap between Labour and the Tories will close.”
When will that happen?
“We are confident that it will narrow and it will close.”
Why are you so confident?
“There are two things. At the time of the local elections and the referendum last year we were averaging 31-32% and level-pegging with the Tories, we had a larger share of the vote in the local elections and in the context of what took place over the summer and autumn in the course of the leadership challenge and the divisions that opened up in the Labour party, Labour fell back to roughly where it is now and has stayed there.
“Since Theresa May become prime minister the Tories have opened up a significant lead and in the by-elections last week we saw the UKIP vote migrating to the Tory party.
“But I think it’s clear that once the government’s position on Brexit, which is kind of a wishlist across the board, comes into contact with reality after the invoking of Article 50, it will start opening significant divisions in the Tory party.
“And at the same time, the economy and real wages are likely to fall back in the coming months because of rising inflation and the constant downward pressures on wages and those things are gong to come home to roost for the Tory party. The Tory support will fall back and Labour will move forward.”
Is the media to blame for Labour’s position?
“I don’t think Jeremy said the media are just to blame. Obviously, there are a number of factors in the coverage of the Labour party and British politics which affect public attitudes and obviously the media is one of them.”
Does Jeremy believe there is a soft coup underway against him?
“I think Jeremy has made clear that he wants to bring people together.
“If we stand together we can push back and raise the level of Labour support and win back trust among people who have lost trust in the party in areas across the country and I think we are confident that can happen.
“John McDonnell has already talked about what he was referring to and he is in the same place as wanting to bring people together to make that happen.”
Is soft coup a phrase Jeremy would use?
“I don’t think he has used that phrase but John McDonnell was clear about what he was talking about. I think Jeremy has said, for example, that Tony Blair’s intervention in the run-up to the by-election was not helpful.
Is it a ‘false alibi’ to blame Labour’s Copeland defeat on Blair?
“It’s just a fact that Labour’s support fell back after the events of last summer and the leadership challenge. That’s just a fact and everyone knows divided parties are disliked by the public. So I think any public division in the Labour party is unhelpful in terms of winning back trust from the people.
“Obviously there were a number of factors in the results in Stoke and Copeland… and the key ones relate to people’s experience of being neglected by successive governments, the squeeze in living standards and the fact there hasn’t been investment in those areas.
“In Copeland, Labour’s support has been declining continuously from 1997 and so I think Jeremy was talking about the key fundamental issues so the position about a divided party is what I was referring to in what happened last summer and that is the backdrop to where we are now.”
How does John McDonnell’s talk of a “soft coup” in the Labour party help dispel this impression of disunity?
“He was talking about some things that were public and some things that were less so.”
What things were not public?
“I think John McDonnell was referring to not only the public statements by prominent Labour figures but also the misleading claims made on the back of partial leaks… which suggested that there was some sort of preparation for a leadership succession and Jeremy was going to resign and clearly that was entirely untrue.”
Will there be a succession?
“Jeremy is the elected leader of the Labour party. He was elected by a landslide last September and he will continue to lead the party into the next general election.”
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