The country is crying out for an opposition worthy of the name

The Independent’s opinion poll today, giving the Conservatives a 21-point lead, underlines the urgency of the task facing those inside and outside the Labour Party who want to see a credible alternative to Theresa May’s Government

Saturday 15 April 2017 18:54
Comments
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to suffer some big defeats on 4 May
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to suffer some big defeats on 4 May

The Labour Party is in a disastrous position. The Conservative 21-point lead in our ComRes opinion poll today is the greatest enjoyed by the party in government since the eve of the 1983 general election, when Margaret Thatcher won a 144-seat majority against Michael Foot’s Labour Party.

What cold comfort there might be for Jeremy Corbyn in our poll is no consolation at all. Labour’s support has not fallen this month, remaining unchanged at 25 per cent. Theresa May has gained ground mainly at the expense of Ukip since the EU referendum. But it is the opposition that should be winning over floating voters, including from the governing party.

Our poll also suggests that several Labour policies are popular. Recent proposals of free school meals for all primary-school children and of raising the minimum wage to £10 in three years both have majority support, as does Labour’s longstanding policy of raising the top rate of income tax from 45p in the pound back to 50p.

What is more, the poll fails to provide evidence that Mr Corbyn himself is as voter-repellent as many opponents in his own party believe. Whether policies are associated with him personally or with Labour generally seems to make no consistent difference to public support. If this is evidence of voters’ indifference towards Mr Corbyn, however, this is hardly a great endorsement of his leadership.

The best that might be said for Mr Corbyn is that Labour’s problems go deeper than the shortcomings of its leader. None of the candidates who offered themselves as alternatives to Mr Corbyn in 2015 or in 2016 could be sure of presenting themselves as particularly credible rivals to Ms May for the office of prime minister. The party has been winded by the EU referendum vote, unsure whether to oppose it wholeheartedly – a position quickly seized by Tim Farron for the Liberal Democrats – or to play the longer game of constructive opposition.

And part of Labour’s problem is that Ms May has proved surprisingly adept at presenting herself as the tribune of “ordinary working-class families” that Labour used to regard as its own, while also claiming the mantle of national unity, bringing together a nation divided by Brexit. The Independent remains sceptical of both poses, but we cannot deny that they have been well received by the voters so far.

The early consequence is that Labour will probably do very badly in the local elections next month, as Professor John Curtice writes for us today. Let us hope that this prompts some productive thinking inside and outside the Labour Party. We say “outside” because there is a feeling in the air that the party as presently constituted is not up to the task of providing an effective opposition on its own. One of the most striking findings of our ComRes poll is that 41 per cent of the public agree that “there is a need for a new centre-ground political party in Britain” – including 43 per cent of Labour voters.

Of course, the “centre ground” means different things to different people, and there are all manner of well-rehearsed problems with trying to assemble cross-party and non-party coalitions. There are even more difficulties in trying to import French movements such as Emmanuel Macron’s pro-EU and centrist En Marche! But there does seem to be a space in British politics, stretching from the radicalism of some of Mr Corbyn’s supporters to the One Nation pro-EU Toryism of someone such as Kenneth Clarke.

It is a space waiting to be filled, and the sooner a serious attempt can be made to do so, the better for the sake of a healthy democracy in this country, which requires an opposition that makes the Government nervous.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in