6 August 2015

Who Will Win the Labour Leadership Contest?

For politicos like me, the ongoing leadership contest in the Labour party makes fascinating viewing. That is exactly what it should be if you are a Green member. While I think there was a move to sign up as a supporter and back Corbyn from a few Greens, I don’t think there will be many who will actually vote. This isn't a new issue, as Green members have previously been eligible to vote due to their union membership, and we had no way of policing that. Whether you are a Tory MP or a Green member, it is probably best to let Labour decide this themselves.

What do I think will happen? There is a media perception that there is a lot of Jeremy Corbyn “momentum” at the moment but I don’t think he is going to win. He is clearly the challenger candidate and he may even top the poll on first preferences, but the bulk of longstanding Labour members (who will form the majority of the electorate) were members through the end of the Blair/Brown era and through Ed Miliband’s leadership.

I think we can discount Liz Kendall. She represents a wing of the Labour Party (including Cllr Nick Small here in Liverpool) that alienates a big portion of the activist base. She’ll get a double figure first preference vote, but she lacks “big hitter” quality. Chukka Ummana might have done better (as long as there were no more “trash” skeletons in his cupboard) as a Blairite standard bearer. Should there be another contest and David Miliband somehow is eligible to stand, he too would probably make it to the run off.

Andy Burnham is the bookies’ favourite but there is no certainty about how reliable those odds will prove. Had Corbyn failed to make the ballot paper, Burnham would probably be feeling pretty comfortable as the likely winner. So while his view was that Corbyn should be on the ballot paper, I think that was foolishly based on the assumption that he would not make the top two candidates, and Corbyn preferences would in the main flow to Burnham, making him a comfortable winner under the Alternative Vote system. If the run off is Burnham v Corbyn, preferences from Cooper and Kendall will mean Burnham wins.

With Liz Kendall likely to be the lowest scoring candidate, it will be those Blairite preferences that will prove crucial. My view is that Alan Johnston’s endorsement of Yvette Cooper will be seen in retrospect as a crucial point in the contest. I expect Cooper to finish 3rd on first preferences, but not too far behind Burnham and Corbyn. Once Kendall’s 2nd preferences come into play, my view is that Cooper will make the top two, and the only question is whether she will face a run-off against Burnham or Corbyn. In either case, my prediction, FWIW, is that she will become the first woman to lead the Labour Party (in a permanent non-caretaker capacity).

The real challenge then is whether Cooper (or if I’m wrong, another candidate) will push for a “one big heave” strategy in 2020, to get into hung parliament territory with Labour as the largest party because an overall majority looks quite out of reach. The answer will come at party conference time and that first speech will be a very interesting one to watch.


Jonathan Clatworthy said...

You've worked out the sums more carefully than I have, but I do think Corbyn is being underrated in two ways. First, his candidacy has energised huge numbers of young people. If he doesn't get the leadership, they may carry on being energetic supporters of some Corbyn movement, but not of the Labour Party as such. The winner is going to have to handle that: turn down all that potential support, or change the Labour Party in a Corbynite direction?
Secondly, the media and political establishment are with one voice saying that if Corbyn wins, he is certain to lose the next general election because he is too left wing. This is what they want to believe, but it's nonsense. Where a leader stands on the left-right spectrum is only one factor in their electability. Knowing where you stand, being consistent and offering hope are all important too. My guess is that if he does become leader, by Christmas Labour will be ahead in the polls. Oh, and he'll probably have the sense to work in alliance with the Greens and SNP and Plaid.

Peter Cranie said...

It is funny looking back after not blogging for such a long time to see how things worked out. While Yvette Cooper may well have ended up as the challenger in a run off, the membership surge for Corbyn was quite incredible. Still, interesting times now for the Labour Party.