Jeremy Corbyn’s team has blamed the Conservatives 17-point lead in the polls on divisive public quarrels over the summer, as the Labour leader faced a difficult first meeting with MPs since securing a second leadership victory.
The poll – only one point higher than Labour’s lowest ICM polling of 25 per cent in June 2008 during Gordon Brown’s premiership – placed Theresa May’s new government comfortably ahead with 43 per cent following her first conference speech in Birmingham.
Mr Corbyn, who was asked about the poll in the first meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) following party conferences, also faced a difficult time from the “same characters getting worked up”. When one MP was asked to describe Mr Corbyn’s first address to the PLP, they replied: "It was the usual patronising crap."
Describing the meeting, one Labour shadow minister told The Independent: “It was same old really – pre-prepared statements from Jeremy, refused to properly engage with legitimate questions and same characters getting worked up”.
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn, added: "There were critical questions as there is at every PLP meeting but I think, for those of you who have been following this for the last year, will know that there have been a number of stormy meetings and this doesn’t even register at the low level on the richter scale."
Before the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) Mr Corbyn had appealed for his backbenchers to unite and “move forward” in an email sent to MPs as they returned to Parliament after the conference recess. On Monday the Labour leader made 10 further shadow ministerial appointments, with eight of the names making a return after resigning after the EU referendum. Further appointments are expected in the coming days.
In the email to MPs, he wrote: "I hope as Parliament comes back, we can all pledge to work together and to move forward as the united team our Party has every right to expect, and that our country desperately needs."
Speaking after the PLP meeting, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman attributed the 17-point lead for the Tories in the ICM poll to “very public divisions” in the Labour party over the summer, mixed with a “honeymoon” period for the new Prime Minister Theresa May. He added: “There’s no doubt that effect of the events of the last few months on public opinion and political polling has been significant. Basically we were level pegging in the May elections – we were one point ahead of the Tories in a real vote that has taken place in the country.
“Obviously when there are very public divisions in a party – as took place in the summer – that has an impact on public opinion. Of course there was a new government and Prime Minister and there’s always an element of honeymoon about that.”
But Mr Corbyn remains confident the poll gap “can be closed”. His spokesperson added: “This government is in disarray. It’s unable to deal with the most important issue facing the country – it’s divided about those issues in a very obvious way. It’s unable in the aftermath of the referendum vote to give a lead on that question and many others.”
Speaking about the sacking of Rosie Winterton – who received a rapturous applause at the PLP meeting – after six years as chief whip, Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “The appointment of Nick Brown, the replacement of Rosie Winterton… as Jeremy said Rosie has played a very effective and strong role as chief whip for six years and he was effusive in her comments about her when she left.
“I think it’s clear their need to be a resetting of the relationship with the PLP and the way it operates – and after a year, from Jeremy’s point of view, it’s necessary for the parliamentary operation to be reset in a way that effectively represents his mandate. It’s not making a big critical point about the previous chief whip to say that it’s time to appoint a new one who can play a different role in the new circumstances we’re in.”Reuse content