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The Party Leaders, 3: Labour

(A slightly different version of this piece appeared yesterday on the New Statesman website, The Staggers).

For this final piece on evidence about attitudes towards party leadership in our latest Welsh Political Barometer poll, I turn to Labour. We have already seen that the troubles of the party at Westminster seem to have been having a negative effect on the party’s support levels – and not only for a general election but even in the devolved context as well. But what direct impact have the troubles and controversy surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership had on views regarding Mr Corbyn himself?

We again asked two relevant questions about this. First, we directly asked whether people thought Jeremy Corbyn should go: “Do you think Jeremy Corbyn should or should not resign as leader of the Labour party?”

In the table below I’ll show two sets of results: first, those among the entire sample, and second those among Labour supporters (for Westminster).

 

Response Whole Sample Labour Supporters
Should Resign 49% 34%
Should Not Resign 31% 56%
Don’t Know 20% 10%

 

These results show an interestingly mixed picture. Across the whole sample, the balance of opinion has clearly turned against Mr Corbyn. Nearly half of our entire sample think that he should go, and fewer than one-third want him to remain in post. But when we restrict our gaze to Labour supporters alone, then a clear majority favour Jeremy Corbyn staying, while barely one-third want him to resign. Supporters of the Labour leader might well seize on the latter set of results as indicating that there is still substantial support for him from within the party – and not only party members, but also the wider community of Labour supporters. The counter to that might be that Labour supporters are, by definition, the people who have remained with the party during Mr Corbyn’s leadership, and that to be successful the party needs to reach out to those who do not currently feel able to back it.

A second relevant question that we asked in our survey was the standard 0-10 scale where our respondents were asked to rate Jeremy Corbyn plus a number of people who, at the time we were drawing up the survey, appears to be plausible Labour leadership contenders. For this following table of results, I’ll present them in the equivalent form as I did for the Conservatives. That is, I’ll show the percentage who responded Don’t Know for each leader (a broad gauge of their public visibility); their average out of ten among those who did have a view on each leader across the entire sample; and the average out of ten among current Labour supporters.

 

% Don’t Know Average /10 Average /10 Labour
Jeremy Corbyn 16 3.9 6.7
Tom Watson 52 3.8 4.9
Dan Jarvis 71 3.4 4.0
Angela Eagle 49 3.5 3.7
John McDonnell 56 3.7 5.6
Hilary Benn 40 4.3 4.0
Owen Smith 69 3.7 4.6

 

These are fascinating results. One thing that we can see straight away is that, probably unsurprisingly, Mr Corbyn currently enjoys a huge advantage in public visibility over all the other individuals named here. Indeed, it is both striking and surprising that Owen Smith – both an MP for a Welsh seat and a former Shadow Secretary-of-State for Wales, who represented his party in the Welsh leaders’ debates at the general election last year – is almost the least known of all the potential contenders listed here.

A second thing which is immediately apparent from these findings is that none of the potential contenders are doing much, if at all, better than Jeremy Corbyn in terms of public popularity. Only Hilary Benn scores a better overall average, among those who do feel able to offer a view about the various individuals listed here, than Mr Corbyn. All the other individuals, including those most-often named in the media in recent days as potential candidates, actually do slightly worse.

A third thing which leaps out of the findings is that among current Labour supporters, Jeremy Corbyn remains well ahead. Of course, these are the people who have stuck with Labour under his leadership. And his ally, John McDonnell, is in a clear second place. All the ‘rebels’ do much worse in terms of esteem amongst Labour supporters. And, strikingly, Hilary Benn actually scores worse on average with Labour supporters than he does with the Welsh public as a whole!

Of course, this data only relates to Labour supporters as a whole, and not necessarily to those who would vote in any leadership election. But it does suggest that, in one of the party’s historic bastions, and a place where ‘Corbynistas’ are not currently leading the party, removing Jeremy Corbyn might prove to be an uphill struggle.

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