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Like Gaul in Julius Caesar’s time, Labour these days is divided into three parts. There are those who voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be party leader, those who voted against him and – by far the biggest group – Labour voters across Britain who played no part in his election.
The main conclusion from YouGov’s latest poll for The Times is simply stated. The first group still loves Mr Corbyn, the second group still rejects him and much of the vital third group see him as a principled but wrong-headed vote loser. An early re-run of the party leadership election would see him re-elected with a big majority – while an early general election would see him comprehensively rejected.
Two current controversies illustrate both points. By five-to-one, those who voted for Mr Corbyn oppose Britain taking part in air strikes against Syria. However, those who voted for one of the other three candidates back air strikes by three-to-two; while among Labour voters generally, support for air strikes runs at almost two-to-one.
On welfare, the pattern is the same. Most Corbyn supporters reject the £26,000-per-family cap on benefits. But most of those who voted against him support the cap – as do two-thirds of all Labour voters.
What will worry many Labour MPs is that Mr Corbyn’s supporters seem to know that they are out of touch with the wider public, but don’t mind. We asked Labour party members, and the electorate generally, to say which of seven attributes they associate with Labour’s leader. The figures differ, but the rankings are much the same. Corbyn’s supporters, his detractors, and Labour voters generally, all put “principled” at the top of the list, and “likely to lead Labour to victory at the next general election” last. It was the only one of the seven qualities picked by fewer than half of those who voted for him.
However, his supporters don’t seem to mind. Our survey shows that they prefer purity to power. By 71 to 15 per cent, they think a political party should stick to policies it believes in, even if they would lead to election defeat, rather than compromise “on some of its policies” in order to get into government and put what it can into practice. By 55-32 per cent, those who voted against Corbyn disagree.
Overall, this survey echoes Labour’s condition in the early 1980s. Its leader, Michael Foot, was widely seen a decent man: principled and honest. He also enthused many Labour activists, who flocked to his rallies in the 1983 election campaign. But he could not persuade voters generally that he was up to the job of Prime Minister, and many traditional Labour voters thought he was far too left-wing. As a result, the party suffered its worst election result since the 1930s. Our poll offers no sign that Mr Corbyn will fare any better.