Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party only has the support of 29% of voters, to the Conservatives’ 40%. Prime Minister Theresa May’s personal approval ratings are an astonishing 71 points ahead of Corbyn. Usually, at this stage of a government, the opposition polls ahead of the government — on September 15, 2011, Ed Miliband’s Labour led the Tories by 2-points.
On paper, the Tories ought to be especially weak. Former leader David Cameron resigned after a fatal gamble on the EU referendum. The UK’s economic future is under dire threat from Brexit, which will likely deprive the country of access to the single European market.
Somehow, Labour — a party which won three elections straight from 1997 to 2010 — now attracts the same levels of support that the Liberal Democrats used to.
And yet this may not be the bottom for Labour.
When the UK Boundaries Commission unveiled the new constituency map, intended to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600 and rebalance voter populations in each constituency, it showed that Labour will lose 28 seats in the shuffle. The Conservatives will lose only 10, giving them a putative 40-seat majority if the new boundaries were set now.
That would leave Labour with just 204 seats in the House, to the Tories’ 320.
And that is before the next election, expected in 2020.
On According to current numbers, Labour is polling a couple of percentage points below their national share in the 2015 election and the Conservatives are polling about four points ahead.
Under the new boundaries, that could reduce Labour’s seats in parliament to under 200. Even if Labour held steady from the 2015 result, it would have fewer seats than were won by Michael Foot’s Labour in 1983 (209), which is widely regarded as Labour’s lowest point since before the Second World War.
It is astonishing to think that Labour, which won 418 seats to the Conservatives’ 165 in 1997, is on course to lose more than half the seats it once had 19 years ago.
And yet there is no sign that Labour’s members feel they need to change course.
For months now, I have been discussing with several pro-Corbyn Labour members what they think Corbyn is going to achieve. Privately, they all admit that he cannot win a general election. For them it is a point of principle: They voted for Corbyn, MPs should accept that and work with him, they say, just the way Tony Blair expected it when he was in charge. For some reason, controlling a party in a powerless minority is more important than being in government.
Gary Younge of The Guardian published a fascinating long read about Corbyn this week. It contains this anecdote:
A publisher friend told me about a boozy London dinner party with a group of left-wing stalwarts, including an academic, campaign organiser and film director. They went around the table giving Corbyn marks out of 10 for his performance so far. The lowest was two; the highest seven; the mean was around three. The only thing they were agreed on was that they would all vote for him again.
Corbyn is likely to be re-elected Labour leader at the party’s conference on September 24. It will be an extraordinary moment. Labour is staring down the barrel of three straight general election defeats. Its losses in Scotland to the SNP are almost total, it has only one seat in a country where it used to claim 41 of 59. Corbyn has almost no appeal to voters outside Northern England and parts of Wales (see map above). There is a very real possibility that Labour may never govern the UK again.
And yet its members are looking down that gun barrel and saying, “pull the trigger.”
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