Corbyn name ‘toxified’ popular Labour policies in general election campaign, poll suggests

Survey participants say party should ditch leader’s agenda, even though they like his policies

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 11 January 2020 18:52 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn announces he will resign as Labour leader before next election

Fresh evidence has emerged suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was a drag on Labour’s performance in last month’s general election.

Polling by BMG for The Independent suggested that voters liked the party’s policies on issues like nationalisation, climate change and taxation until they were told they were linked to Corbyn.

Rob Struthers, head of polling for BMG, said the findings may indicate that the Labour leader’s name alone was enough to “toxify” policies by association.

The BMG poll also found evidence of a post-election boost for Boris Johnson, as he dominates the House of Commons with an 80-seat majority, while Labour and Liberal Democrats seek new leadership following their disastrous election results.

Conservatives were on 44 per cent – up three points on a similar poll on the eve of the general election a month ago – while Labour was down three on 29 and Lib Dems down three on 11. Satisfaction with Mr Johnson’s performance as prime minister was up 11 points to 49 per cent.

Participants in the survey were presented with a range of policies from Labour’s manifesto for the 12 December election, without being told that they were being put forward by Corbyn’s party.

There was strong support for policies like free personal care for the elderly (backed by 83 per cent, with just 3 per cent opposing), action to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 (supported by a margin of 70-7 per cent), a £10 minimum wage (67-12) and income tax hikes for those earning over £80,000 (60-16).

And nationalisation of the railways was backed by 57 per cent, with 16 per cent opposed, with clear majorities also approving of public ownership for water (by a margin of 53-18 per cent), energy (52-20) and the mail (48-21).

Ending private sector provision of NHS services was backed by 48 per cent, with 19 per cent opposing, and abolishing university tuition fees won the backing of 56 per cent, against 20 per cent who were opposed.

But when participants were asked whether Mr Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader should stick with his policies or move to an alternative agenda, a very different picture emerged.

Some 39 per cent said the new leader should ditch Mr Corbyn’s policy on nationalisation, against just 23 per cent who said it should be kept.

Forty per cent said the party should move away from Corbyn’s positions on public spending and austerity, compared to 21 per cent who wanted Labour to stick with its current plans.

And on taxation, twice as many wanted the existing policy developed under Corbyn to be ditched as thought it should be retained (40-20).

There was a similar pattern with climate change (36 per cent wanting Labour to change course against 23 saying it should stick with Corbyn’s position), defence and security (44-15) and crime and justice (39-19).

Only on healthcare and the NHS was there enthusiasm for retaining the Corbyn agenda, with 32 per cent saying Labour should stick with its existing policy and 33 per cent that it should change course.

Mr Struthers said: “This poll is a perfect illustration of the problem that faced Labour in last month’s election. “Polled individually – and without mention of Corbyn or indeed the Labour Party – many of these prominent manifesto commitments are popular, often commanding the support of a large majority of the public.

“However, if you ask the public to think about these areas more broadly and without policy specifics, large proportions think the next Labour leader should change course.

“These conflicting results can be explained by two main factors. First, Corbyn’s unpopularity means that his policy positions become ‘toxified’ simply by name association.

“With Corbyn’s net satisfaction ratings continuing to plummet to new lows, voters who are less aware of policy specifics may say the party needs to change direction due to their dislike for the Labour leader, despite actually agreeing with many of his manifesto commitments.

“Secondly, it is also worth pointing out that policies when being polled on an individual basis can be popular, but when taken together as part of a broader platform, voters take a different view or have a different impression as their cumulative appeal.”

BMG questioned 1,508 British adults between 8 and 10 January.

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