No more comfortable lies
Here is an attempt to unpick some of the more common lies that we on the left tell ourselves. The route to winning lies in properly understanding why we are unpopular and taking steps to address that, not in telling ourselves stories that sound nice and make us feel better. So.
The polls are wrong
This is an extremely common claim in certain left-wing circles at the moment, and comes from the performance of opinion polling in the run-up to the 2015 general election. Basically, because those particular opinion polls were inaccurate, people extrapolate that no polling can be trusted. Ever, ever again.
But, this isn’t just healthy skepticism talking, nor even straight-up nihilism. The people who dismiss polls tend to be those who just don’t really like what the polls are saying; typically, people who don’t want to accept that Jeremy Corbyn’s ratings are looking terrible. Nobody is refusing to accept polling because they think the Conservative lead is understated.
The implicit assumption being made by the poll deniers is that Labour’s support is being underestimated, despite the fact that all the polls overestimated Labour’s support last year. Anyone denying current polling is effectively saying that there is an anti-Labour bias in the polls; a claim for which there is no evidence at all.
Are there other ways we can track progress? After all, not all of the polls in May 2015 were inaccurate. Mike Smithson argues that leader ratings provide a reliable predictor of election success; calling every election correctly since 1979. Currently, leader ratings show that Jeremy Corbyn has lower approval than Nick Clegg did just before the general election. Will the poll deniers believe these numbers?
If that’s no good, what about trends? Surely trends can be relied upon, as they at least show the direction of travel? The average Conservative polling lead in February was just over 2% greater than the average lead in October, Corbyn’s first full month as leader. In terms of trends on those all important leader ratings, Jeremy Corbyn’s approval score slid from -8% in September to -39% in January. These numbers will be consistent with one another, as they will use the same methodology; so it surely can’t be denied that Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings have fallen dramatically since he was elected?
Even if you choose to deny the voting intentions because they were wrong in May 2015, the leadership ratings were correct, and spell bad news for Jeremy Corbyn; as do the trends in the polling. It’s impossible to prove that polling is right or wrong until after the event, of course; but it is the only way we have to assess how our party is doing, and right now, there is a pretty solid body of evidence to suggest that things are going badly.
Denial of all of this data is merely a decision to stick your fingers in your ears until election day, to choose to believe in what you want to be true. If we’re being honest, too many of us did that in 2010 and 2015. We mustn’t again. We must heed the warnings.
Our policies are popular, so we’ll win
This is a fairly common line; opinion polls are wheeled out showing that the majority of the population support renationalising the railways, or defending the NHS (note that this lie relies on believing opinion polling). This rather crazy article reflects this train of thought, complaining that “from a rational perspective of policy appeal, poor poll ratings make no sense”. Hum.
Let’s not forget. Ed Miliband had some immensely popular policies. The energy price freeze and the non-doms tax pledge in the run-up to the election went down extremely well, but then we know what happened next.
We can offer policies that the public will like the sound of, but that doesn’t mean that voters will hand us the keys to Number 10. Voters want a credible, competent government who they trust to manage the economy well and spend money effectively. Rail nationalisation is not high on the electorate’s agenda.
We lost in 2015 because we weren’t left-wing enough
No. No, no, no. This is what a lot of Labour members believe, and it would be lovely if it were true, but it is a lie. Why, if this was the case, if voters were desperate for a proper left-wing alternative, would people vote for a right-wing party instead? Why would they hand power to the Tories?
The electorate believed we were too anti-austerity. That we had a weak leader. That we didn’t connect on issues like immigration and benefits. And that we might be propped up by the SNP. Again, there is lots of evidence for all of this, from Jon Cruddas, Deborah Mattinson, and Margaret Beckett.
Non-voters will sweep Labour to power in 2020
Ah, the idea that Jeremy Corbyn will bring millions of people who never normally vote into the polling booths. It’s total rubbish.
Stephen Bush has done the hard yards on this here; there is no route to power that doesn’t involve addressing the concerns of Conservative voters. Sorry.
And as an aside on this, I’d actually like us to try and speak to the entire country, not just some small segment that already agrees with us. Which brings us on to the next lie.
This lie is an idea that manifests in various forms; perhaps reference to “the 76%” of people who didn’t vote Conservative in 2015, or the idea that there is a latent progressive majority out there waiting to flock to a sufficiently deserving party.
In the 2015 general election, the Conservatives and UKIP put together won 49.5% of all votes cast. Adding in some of the Northern Irish parties means that, in last year’s election, there was a progressive minority.
Of course it’s true that most voters didn’t support the Tories, but that’s even more true of every other party. There is no progressive majority, unless you start trying to claim that non-voters are hugely progressive, which was covered in the previous point, and isn’t true anyway.
The upcoming financial crisis will make everyone support Labour
Well, it might do. But I wouldn’t count on it, as Ellie Mae O’Hagan argues excellently here. After all, it didn’t work out that well for Labour in 2008. The Tories are smart, ruthless, and good at turning things to their advantage.
Also, I’m not sure it’s a great sign if your plan to win an election relies on a catastrophic market collapse that could cost millions of jobs.
Jeremy Corbyn is really popular, but the media won’t say so
This was said in, err, the media, here. Around 1,000 people turned out in the Welsh Valleys to hear Corbyn speak recently, and Tansy Hoskins describes him as a “cross between a rock star and a saint”.
We’ve been here before. Back in the 1980s, Michael Foot boasted that there were a thousand people at his meeting the previous night, all cheering. Yes, John Golding responded, “but the 122,000 people outside think that you’re crackers”.
This lie is quite similar to the old “building a movement” line, which assumes that there is a critical mass of people ready to take control of the country, but this is somehow passing completely under the radar. It’s not happening. Jeremy Corbyn is reaching not an inch outside of his comfort zone, having no impact at all on swing voters in southern seats.
Biggest mandate ever!
A personal bugbear to finish with. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election victory WAS NOT THE BIGGEST MANDATE EVER. He won 59.5% of all votes cast, less than John Smith in 1992 (91%) and Neil Kinnock in 1988 (89%). In terms of total votes, Jeremy Corbyn won 251,000 votes, half as many as Tony Blair won in 1994 (508,000).
It. Was. Not. The. Biggest. Mandate. Ever.