Following on from the Sleaford by-election, in which Labour came fourth, Labour MP for Croydon North Steve Reed said:
“Labour risks becoming the party of the 0% if we manage to upset both Remainers and Leavers by equivocating our position.”
It was a pithy statement I think will be remembered for years to come. For it perfectly summaries Labour’s current predicament, caught in the middle of the Brexit debate as they are. Yet it is clear that this mode of thought is not on the leadership’s radar whatsoever. Diane Abbott said in an interview this weekend that regarding Labour’s poll numbers she was “confident we’re going to close the gap in the coming 12 months. We’ve had a pretty difficult 12 months, partly Jeremy’s enemies in the party, partly commentators, but we have the right policies and the right leader.”
Comparing the Reed and Abbott quotes tells you absolutely everything you need to know about Labour’s current problems. The leadership clearly think that 2016 has been a bad year that has seen Labour’s numbers fall even further than they had been in 2015 – and that it is all the errant members of the PLP and the media’s fault. She also asserts that this gap in polling numbers between her party and the Tories will be closed by this time next year.
Why does she think this gap will be closed exactly? The media are not about to get any friendlier towards Corbyn, so that’s one of the two boogeymen that will still be at full force. The PLP? They may have gone into silence but even Diane Abbott can’t be thinking they are all suddenly Jeremy converts. To summarise, Diane Abbott thinks it is the PLP and the media’s fault for the polling problems Labour are experiencing, but despite the fact that neither have really changed Labour will draw level with the Tories in the number over the next year for some unknown reason.
The denial on show here is fairly heart breaking. And it appears to be completely genuine: Diane Abbott seems to really think all this. Not that she had to go out and sound positive in the face of poor by-election results, but that she is actually sure that Jeremy Corbyn will be prime minister after the next general election. More horrifying to listen to as well was the idea that part of this recovery will be powered by the Tories “ripping themselves apart over Europe”. That line was trotted out by Ed Miliband and his team throughout the last parliament, and guess who won the election in 2015? That – let us remember – despite Labour being ahead in the polls for most of the parliament, as opposed to behind in double figures throughout.
The last YouGov poll released had Labour on 25%. This number is in some ways the polling Rubicon for Labour: if they start polling below 25 regularly, with no general election in sight, even Diane Abbott should start to worry.