Jeremy Corbyn falls behind Theresa May in leadership poll after wreath ceremony controversy

Poll finds row over Tunisia memorial event has shifted some voters’ perceptions but not had major impact

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 16 August 2018 18:01 BST
Jeremy Corbyn: I was “present” when the wreath was laid “I don’t think I was actually involved in it.”

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Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership ratings have fallen behind Theresa May’s following of a month of stories about Labour antisemitism and Tory Islamophobia.

A YouGov poll showed the proportion of people thinking Mr Corbyn was doing well in his job has fallen significantly since mid-July, while Ms May’s figures have slightly improved.

The survey suggested the latest story on Mr Corbyn attending a controversial wreath-laying ceremony in Tunisia has changed some voters’ minds but had a limited impact, with half of those polled either not having followed it closely or being completely unaware of the row.

The Labour leader came under pressure when pictures emerged of him at a 2014 memorial event at the Palestinian Martyrs Cemetery in Tunisia. The images appeared to show him holding a wreath next to the graves of Palestinian leaders accused of involvement in the 1972 Munich massacre, which killed 11 Israeli Olympic athletes.

According to the YouGov poll, only 20 per cent of people now think Mr Corbyn is doing well as party leader – down from 27 per cent last month - while 65 per cent say he is performing badly (up from 59 per cent).

In contrast, the proportion of people who think Ms May is doing well has increased from 24 to 27 per cent, while the number criticising her performance has dropped from 66 to 63 per cent.

The change came as many voters expressed doubts over Mr Corbyn’s version of events in relation to his visit to the cemetery.

The Labour leader has insisted he only laid a wreath for the victims of a 1985 Israeli airstrike on a Palestinian base in Tunisia. He admitted being “present” when another wreath was laid at the graves of those accused of masterminding the 1972 Munich massacre, but said he did not lay one himself.

Among people who were aware of the row, only one in five (21 per cent) said they believed this was an honest account, while 44 per cent said they did not. The rest did not know.

Forty-four per cent also said they thought it was likely that Mr Corbyn had laid a wreath at the graves of the Munich terrorists, despite him denying this, while 25 per cent said he probably had not.

However, few people said they had followed news coverage about Mr Corbyn’s attendance of the memorial service closely. While 74 per cent were aware of the story, only 26 per cent said they were following it either very closely of fairly closely.

Anthony Wells, director of political research at YouGov, said: “The poll shows the political argument over the wreath has not been particular widely noticed, and has made little difference to perceptions of Jeremy Corbyn. Over half the public are unaware of the story or are not following it, and a large majority of those who are aware say it has made no difference to their view of Jeremy Corbyn.”

“This is actually fairly typical – many stories that dominate Westminster don’t really cut through to the wider public. When people do notice them, they often see them through the prism of their existing political support. People who already had a negative view of Jeremy Corbyn may react negatively, but people who support Jeremy Corbyn are happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Of those who were aware of the story, 16 per cent said it had worsened their opinion of Mr Corbyn, compared to 3 per cent who said it had improved their perception of him.

Most said it had not changed their view, with 47 per cent maintaining their negative perception of Mr Corbyn and 21 per cent continuing to have a positive opinion of him.

Mr Corbyn has admitted being “present” when wreaths were laid at the grave of Atef Bseiso, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation official who was accused of involvement in the Munich massacre. However, he said he did not “think” he had laid a tribute to the alleged terrorists himself.

He said: “I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it.

“I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere, because we have to end it. You cannot pursue peace by a cycle of violence. They only way you pursue peace is by a cycle of dialogue.”

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