Voters want next Labour leader to ditch Corbyn’s agenda but are not convinced by current candidates, poll finds

Exclusive: Public think left-wing policies on tax, nationalisation and defence should all be dumped in favour of more centre-ground approach

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 21 December 2019 22:02
Jeremy Corbyn says he will step down in early 2020

Voters want Labour’s next leader to make a decisive break with Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda, but are not impressed by any of the potential candidates to succeed him, a new poll has revealed.

In a finding that will cast doubt over Mr Corbyn’s claims to have “won the argument” during the general election campaign, the BMG survey for The Independent found that voters think Labour must ditch its current approach to taxation, public spending and national security, and shift towards the centre ground.

The public wants the next Labour leader to abandon radical plans to raise taxes and embark on a huge public spending spree, including £500bn of borrowing to fund investment in infrastructure.

Mr Corbyn will step down early next after leading Labour to its worst general election result in 85 years. Despite his party losing 59 seats, he insisted that Labour had “won the argument”.

However, the BMG poll suggests that his economic agenda and his stance on national security issues were both particularly unpopular.

It found that 46 per cent of voters think Labour should ditch its current agenda on tax and change course, while just 27 per cent are in favour of policy similar to Mr Corbyn’s.

Forty-five per cent of voters also want Labour’s current positions on public spending and nationalisation to be dumped, while in both cases 28 per cent do not.

The gap is even wider on security issues, with 48 per cent saying that the new leader should break with Mr Corbyn’s approach to defence. Just 21 per cent support the current policy.

Even among Labour voters, only around half say the next leader should definitely continue Mr Corbyn’s approach to tax and nationalisation.

By contrast, Labour’s current health policies are much more popular, with a majority (42 per cent versus 33 per cent) wanting them to be maintained. The party’s position on climate change is also slightly more popular than unpopular.

Prospective candidates have already begun jockeying to succeed Mr Corbyn ahead of the formal start of the leadership contest in January.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, and Clive Lewis, the Treasury minister, have announced their intentions to stand, while Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, the shadow business secretary, and Lisa Nandy, the Wigan MP, are expected to run. Backbenchers David Lammy, Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips are also eyeing up a bid.

The finding that voters want Labour to shift towards the centre ground will cause problems for leadership hopefuls, given that the party base is likely to demand the next leader promises to continue much of Mr Corbyn’s left-wing agenda.

Those most likely to ditch Mr Corbyn’s approach, including Ms Phillips and Ms Cooper, are thought to be highly unlikely to be chosen by the left-wing membership.

Robert Struthers, research manager at BMG, said: “As the Labour Party enters a period of soul searching, this polling suggests that there is much that the public would like the next Labour leader to change with respect to the party’s policy platform.

“From the areas listed, the NHS and climate change are areas where more voters feel Jeremy Corbyn’s positions are in the right place. For instance, in the case of the NHS, close to half of the public think the next Labour leader should pursue a similar agenda, including three-quarters of those who backed Labour at the ballot box earlier this month.

“More concerning are areas such as defence, taxation and nationalisation, where many more think the next Labour leader should change direction. Indeed, in terms of defence and security – an area where Mr Corbyn often clashed with his critics on the right of the Labour party – it is particularly telling that more of even those who still backed Labour just two weeks ago think the next Labour leader should change course than believe they should stick with Corbyn’s platform.”

The BMG poll revealed that voters are not yet impressed by any of the potential candidates.

When the public is asked who should succeed Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir is the most popular option, but he is backed by just 9 per cent of voters – narrowly ahead of Ms Phillips (8 per cent) and Ms Cooper (6 per cent).

Emily Thornberry condemns Corbyn's advisers

In a blow to Ms Long Bailey, who is seen as Sir Keir’s main rival as frontrunner, only 2 per cent of people polled said they wanted her to replace Mr Corbyn, while 61 per cent said they had never heard of her. The Corbyn ally comes behind Mr Lammy, the Tottenham MP, and Ms Nandy, the Wigan MP, when voters are asked who should be the next Labour leader.

Sir Keir is also the most popular choice among Labour voters, with 16 per cent preferring. He is ahead of Ms Phillips (11 per cent) and Ms Cooper (7 per cent).

Among Tory voters, many of whom Labour will need to win over if is to win the next election, Sir Keir is marginally less popular than Ms Cooper.

The poll found that many members of Labour’s top team have barely registered with voters. Ms Cooper was the best known, with 60 per cent of people saying they had heard of her, followed by 55 for Ms Thornberry, 50 per cent for Sir Keir and 48 per cent for Mr Lammy.

The figure drops to 28 per cent for Ms Nandy and 23 per cent for Mr Lewis.

BMG Research interviewed a representative sample of 1,506 GB adults online between 17 and 20 December. Data are weighted. BMG is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules

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