Corbyn’s Declining Popularity?

Aaron Bastani

Today’s by-election in Oldham West and Royton is the first real test for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Nigel Farage has said the results will be 'very, very tight', but a victory for Ukip is unlikely. They'll probably come a closer second than they did in May to the late Michael Meacher, but that says as much about the Tories' inexorable fall in England’s north as it does about the parliamentary opposition.

Oldham aside, meaningful insights into Corbyn's leadership are rare. Most of the media are biased against Labour’s unlikely frontman, and the political terrain after the Paris attacks has demanded he focus on areas – foreign policy and terrorism – where public opinion is least likely to agree with him.

A YouGov poll published towards the end of last month paints an alarming picture for the Labour leader. Corbyn’s low personal approval ratings are to some extent unsurprising, given the way he's portrayed by the media. Yet on close inspection the details of the polling data are worse than might be expected, even for his most ardent supporters.

If the European left is to replicate the Democrats' success in the US since 2008 – but with a more populist and radical programme – it needs to build on an electoral coalition of BME voters, women and the young. During Corbyn’s campaign this summer there appeared to be the beginnings of that: the party’s 150,000 new members tended to be younger and female, with the average age of the membership falling by eleven years in a few months.

That is reflected in November’s poll, with 18 to 24-year-olds, women and ethnic minorities tending to approve of the Labour Party and disapprove of David Cameron. But they all also tend to disapprove of Corbyn personally. That is particularly surprising among young voters who display, across nearly every issue, more progressive views than the rest of the electorate, and are more likely to approve of the Labour Party than not. David Cameron plays his voting blocs – the over-sixties and homeowners – like a fiddle; the politician who wants to introduce rent caps is unpopular even among private renters.

Labour’s only chance of forming a government in five years time is with a dramatic increase in turnout, something behind both Barack Obama's wins (turnout in the 2008 US presidential election was 7 per cent higher than in 2000) and the SNP’s Westminster breakthrough in May. Without women, ethnic minorities and the young supporting Labour there is no chance of that happening.

Three months into Corbyn's leadership, the energy that characterised his revelatory summer is on the wane. Some of that was inevitable, but his operation has also become too risk-averse. The outstanding use of social media before September – I’m told it accounted for more than £100,000 raised in campaign funds – has ebbed, and the way it was integrated with offline rallies is now a thing of the past. Labour’s biggest asset right now is its 400,000 members. How are they being leveraged to forge a counter-narrative through social media, raise funds or target Tory marginals?

When I interviewed Corbyn in July, he struck me as a superb candidate for networked activism and digital media simply because he was so open to new ideas. That openness seems to have gone, presumably because of the retinue that now surrounds him. The Labour leader could be a hugely disruptive politician in 21st-century Britain, but if his tenure is confined by the technologies and attitudes of the 20th-century left, he stands little chance of convincing even those who, on the face of it, are waiting to be inspired.


  • 3 December 2015 at 8:47pm
    streetsj says:
    Corbyn is no Obama

    • 3 December 2015 at 9:41pm
      JWA says: @ streetsj
      Obama's allotment sucks

    • 4 December 2015 at 11:33am
      Joshua K says: @ streetsj
      Bernie Sanders is no Obama either. Look at their respective positions on Wall Street, TPP, etc.

  • 4 December 2015 at 8:30am
    lauzun says:
    "That is particularly surprising among young voters who display, across nearly every issue, more progressive views than the rest of the electorate..."

    What does 'progressive' mean? One hears it all the time. Is it, for example, progressive to object to the Good Friday agreement on the grounds that one wants to see a united Ireland? Is 'peoples quantitative easing' progressive? What is the progressive position on welfare and on immigration? On education?

    The problem Corbyn, MacDonnell and Livingstone have with the young is not with something called 'progressive'. Its that they seem prehistoric. They are living in a world that the young never experienced and heard little about. The suggestion, for instance, that the coal mines should be reopened? That makes sense in the context of the pitched battles of the Thatcher era, and clearly Corbyn wants to go back and refight those battles but this time win. But the young have never heard of those battles.

    For the young the question is, what does that have to do with us? Coal mines? Its simply incomprehension. Ken Livingstone is similarly a voice from history.

    Similarly, the only Benn the young have heard of is Hilary Benn. The whole era of Militant, the CLPD - the battle that Lansman and Fisher want to refight and win this time, all that is not so much ancient history, its prehistory or archeology, its something the young have no clue about and cannot even get their heads around.

    Its like when John Major wanted to revive the LNER and LMS to general incomprehension and some puzzled questions from the young of the day about what on earth they were.

    That time is gone, both the internal and the external battles, and the party needs to reinvent itself and get a top leadership which does not consist exclusively of the previous generation.

    Its not just age, though that is a factor. Its living in the past that is the problem.

  • 5 December 2015 at 1:19pm
    RosieBrock says:
    His popularity is in decline and it is not only the media that has done it. He has to take responsibility for lack of leadership on abuse amongst members - which reminds me of the 13 warring socialist societies at the LSE in the late 60s and early 70s), and McDonnell with his little red book. Honestly! This sort of leftism has never been known to have a subtle or sophisticated sense of humour and that proved it. But also the CLPs -mostly moribund, dominated by cliques who have been doing all the boring work at CLP level for decades, know each other and each other's views and who, for far too long have been adopting the Labour culture from on high that encourages envelope stuffing over political debate at grassroots level. The influx of new members & rejoiners in the summer in my area was huge but interest has already fallen off because of the dire ward meetings -like being locked in a dusty old cupboard.One dynamic youngster has organised a policy debate at a local venue (which costs much needed money) but young newbies are so far failing to sign up in droves because being the instant generation, wanted instant dynamic politics and over the past three months, did not get it.

  • 6 December 2015 at 12:33pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    I don't know whether it answers 'Lauzun', but I contributed this a few months ago:

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