With the government on hold while the Conservative Party chooses a new leader, Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party should be having the time of their life. But they certainly are not.
Divided over Brexit, the party this week announced a new position that if the Conservatives were working towards Brexit, with or without a deal, they would demand and campaign for Remain in a new referendum. This immediately raised the question about what their stance might be in a general election, or what their policy would be if they won.
Labour is now outflanked on Brexit by the Liberal Democrats who threaten it in urban middle class seats, while the Brexit Party threatens it in Leave voting working class seats. Achieving 14 per cent in the EU elections in May, with the Lib Dems on 20 per cent is an example of where trying to sit on the fence has got them. In Westminster polls Labour is now neck and neck with the Conservatives in the mid 20s – at a time when one might expect the main opposition party to be streets ahead.
The next election may break one of the rules of politics which is that however bad their leader, both the Labour Party and Conservatives have 29 per cent or so of the electorate baked in. Continuing ambiguity over what voters see as the number one issue facing Britain has not been fixed by Labour’s latest announcement. ‘Edging towards Remain’ in a divided country does not win you friends.
The central challenge facing Labour is that divided parties do not win elections. Labour would be in difficulty over its ‘constructive ambiguity’ over Brexit, but it also has its anti-Semitism row. This is not compulsive viewing for most voters, but the endless rebuttal and counter-rebuttal over it is simply cementing the image of a divided party.
Even more unfortunately for Labour, voters do not just cast their votes on policy, but also on their general image of the party, and its leader in particular. Here Labour has a big problem. Jeremy Corbyn has the lowest net satisfaction score for any leader of the opposition Ipsos MORI has ever measured. With 75 per cent of the public dissatisfied with him, his chances of picking up the swing voters Labour needs to win an election looks very unlikely.
No-one has ever come back from this position and gone on to win a general election. The Labour surge of the 2017 election, when Jeremy Corbyn was a still slightly unknown quantity, an under-dog disgruntled voters could vote for against a Conservative government seemingly streets ahead, to prevent the Tories winning a large majority, are long gone. Voters have made up their mind about Jeremy Corbyn now: his ratings have fallen sharply since the 2017 election.
If they do win, on Labour’s current numbers it will be nothing short of miraculous.
The party seen as having the best leader, and the best policies on the economy by the largest number of voters is nearly always the victor in an election. Labour has neither. An election in this year of Brexit may mean that economic competence matters less – but Labour is not seen as having the best policy on Brexit either, and nor are voters confident of Jeremy Corbyn leading negotiations with the EU to get a better deal than Mrs May’s.
Both Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson are seen as better candidates for PM than Mr Corbyn by more of the electorate (34 pre cent and 31 per cent vs Corbyn’s 22 per cent) – and both are seen as more likely to get a good deal on Brexit.
Labour’s continuing contortions over Brexit mean that almost anything they do now is likely to fail to convince voters.
Their last hope in our first past the post system of politics is that with the Conservatives losing more of their voters to the Brexit Party than Labour has been losing to the Liberal Democrats, four party politics lets them sneak through and despite everything, somehow win a majority in a general election.
They hope that broadcasting rules guaranteeing them more air time will see a surge in support during the election, and that the Conservatives will again run a disastrous campaign. If they do win, on Labour’s current numbers it will be nothing short of miraculous; Labour will say they confounded the experts in 2017 and will do so again.
Ben Page originally contributed this article to metro.co.uk