Paranoia lies behind the Labour Party’s paradoxical polling, but digital democracy and a strong ‘Lexit strategy’ will offer new ways to build the broad left, writes CHARLEY ALLAN
LABOUR faces a popularity paradox. Despite tripling in size since the general election, the party has recently collapsed in the polls — even dipping below the “don’t knows” during the height of Theresa May’s extended honeymoon.
JezWeHaters are making hay with a new ICM survey putting Labour on 28 per cent to the Tories’ 44, an eye-watering 16-point gap, but as usual it’s worth looking beyond the headlines to see the full picture.
Far more important than the so-called “headline” figure, which tries to predict the result of an immediate general election, is “voting intention” — which weights everyone’s views equally, even people who aren’t sure if they’ll vote at all.
This gives a much better snapshot of public opinion than the faulty predictive “turnout” algorithms that pollsters are increasingly obsessed with.
It’s still not great news for Labour. On 23 per cent, it’s six points behind the Tories on 29, but a whopping 21 per cent say they don’t know who to vote for, with another 5 per cent either not voting or refusing to answer.
This sky-high number of “don’t knows” shows there’s everything to play for. Public opinion can change overnight depending on events — and these are eventful times.
Comparing like with like by looking at previous ICM polls reveals how the don’t-know surge happened and where it came from.
Ten days before the EU referendum, Labour was polling at 30 per cent by voting intention, with the Tories on 25 and the “don’t knows” on just 6 per cent. Labour’s five-point lead was a new high, though the party had been ahead of the Tories for months.
A fortnight later on June 27, aka “mass-resignation Monday,” Labour plunged to 26 per cent — level with the rising Tories — while the “don’t knows” more than tripled to 19 per cent, where they’ve roughly stayed ever since.
By July 11, with the “chicken coup” in full swing, Labour had further fallen to 23 per cent, two points behind the Tories, and then to 22 per cent another fortnight later — by which point the Tories had soared to 30 per cent.
Since then, Labour has been between five and 10 points behind — which puts its current six-point deficit into perspective.
So, as a result of the failed coup and pointless leadership contest, roughly a quarter of former Labour backers now say they’re unsure who to vote for, while the Tories have seen their support rise by about a fifth since uniting behind a new leader.
It makes sense that divided parties get punished in the polls — after all, why should the public trust someone whose own MPs have publicly shown such a stunning lack of confidence in?
But the gap between the two parties could quickly close again as Labour unites against a “big business Brexit,” with most members understanding the pressing need to promote a left-wing exit strategy — or “Lexit strategy” — instead.
Such unity will be vital in the fight against not just the Tories but the far right hiding badly behind them.
Corbynistas won’t win the next general election by themselves and neither will the centre left, but by working together they should be unstoppable — though it’s obvious why neither side entirely trusts the other yet.
Enthusiastic new joiners inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership were horrified to see the blatant disloyalty from longstanding members during the coup and were shocked by the destructive behaviour of both MPs and party officials.
The centrists, on the other hand, suddenly find themselves very much in the minority — and are paranoid that the party’s old left is now plotting against them with the help of the new Corbynista cavalry. In reality, the plotters are primarily on Labour’s right wing — and they’re completely public about it.
The Labour First faction, which describes itself as “a network of Labour moderates fighting against Momentum and other hard left groups,” is trying to crowd-fund £40,000 to pay for a full-time organiser.
The job will include helping “to set up local groups to counteract Momentum around the country” — but with less than £8,000 raised by yesterday morning and donations already slowing to a trickle, it might take some time to get this wrecking ball swinging.
Meanwhile, Momentum appears to need no help undermining itself after the national committee’s narrow decision on Saturday to effectively abandon its new “digital democracy platform” only a week after launch.
MxV — its name comes from the scientific formula for momentum, power equals mass times velocity — was introduced as an innovative way to propose and debate topics online before discussion at the group’s national conference in February.
This brainchild of Momentum founder and long-time Corbyn ally Jon Lansman is meant to bring participatory democracy to the masses — especially useful for members who can’t make regular meetings.
But other organised factions within the movement, such as the infamous Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, object on principle to a “one member, one vote” system due to fears it will dilute their power-base, which comes from the branch level, and want traditional delegate-based decision-making instead.
Unfortunately, recent political misjudgments by the Momentum leadership, such as the Jackie Walker debacle, have allowed a sort of anti-Lansman alliance to form that has been used to block this tremendously exciting democratic advance.
And some elements seem to think that winning power within Momentum is more important than either organising as a legitimate faction within Labour to defend Corbyn’s leadership or promoting his policies on the doorstep — street by street, supermarket by supermarket, pub by pub.
It’s true that e-voting can’t completely replace face-to-face meetings — and the website’s functionality is still pretty basic compared to some political message boards in the US — but it could become a powerful tool both within the party and for reaching out to wider communities.
If the Labour leadership would intervene and bang a few heads together, conference could still end up with some combination of the two systems but in any case, MxV has the potential to go much further as a prototype for a future “people’s parliament.”
All Momentum members are invited to write, support and comment on proposals, as well as promote their positions through whatever channels are available to them.
Keen to raise our paper’s profile among this new movement of socialist grassroots activists, I wrote my own motion, imaginatively titled “Momentum supports the Morning Star,” so make sure to give it your backing if you’re a member.
There are plenty of other proposals to peruse on numerous topics — from the merits or otherwise of a grand anti-Tory alliance to standing in solidarity with “purged” party members.
And a comradely debating platform could provide the party with a much-needed healing space after months of poisonous infighting on top of the terrifying assassination of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox just one week before the referendum.
Wreckers on the far left and right of Labour want to carry on last summer’s civil war or at least find new pointless issues to disagree on.
But everyone else has a choice to make — do they start working alongside each other again to grow the broad-left movement or retreat to the fanatical factional fringes.
The future of Labour — and the urgent fight against insurgent fascism — depends on Corbynistas and Corbyn-sceptics alike making the correct decision.
You can chat with Charley on Twitter: @charleyallan