Who has the best chance of beating Jeremy Corbyn: Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper? The Burnham and Cooper camps are vying to be the clear ‘Anyone But Corbyn’ candidate, and trying to grab as much of the low-hanging ‘soft’ Corbyn vote as possible before the ballot closes on 10 September.
Burnham is most blatant in his adoption of the ABC strategy. For example, in an op-ed for the Independent today, he says ‘I believe it has come down to a straight choice between Jeremy Corbyn and myself’ and outlined five policy areas he will pursue if elected leader to build a ‘bolder, more principled Labour party’.
On housing, Burnham said he will oppose the extension of Right to Buy for housing associations. For education, he will ‘stand up’ for comprehensive education. He promises to fight the Tories efforts to ‘demonise’ trade unions and promises to ‘lead the opposition’ against the Welfare Bill. Plus, the Leigh MP says he ‘will win the 2020 election’ as ‘I am best placed to win for Labour’.
These policies demonstrate Burnham’s Corbyn-lite approach: painting him as an ‘authentic’ alternative to the Conservatives, just one set in a slightly more electable and less controversial mould than Corbyn. It can be argued that this approach is working for Burnham: the bookies say he is still the second most likely to win.
A source on Burnham’s campaign says ‘Yvette remains some distance behind Andy, who is only person with any chance of beating Corbyn — something that is backed up by Kendall and Corbyn campaigns’. Furthermore, his campaign argue their candidate is the best placed to win in 2020, as shown in this poll from the Independent.
But has Burnham backed himself into an intellectual dead-end? In the same way that the Tories learnt they couldn’t ‘out Ukip Ukip’, Burnham might discover he can’t ‘out Corbyn Corbyn’. If the party membership decides it wants an ‘authentic’ alternative to previous leaders, they are likely to plump for the real deal and back Corbyn himself.
On the other hand, Yvette Cooper’s Anyone But Corbyn strategy is based on a comprehensive policy opposition. Compared to Burnham, Cooper has continuously raised a vocal opposition to Corbyn’s ideas — recently commenting that his proposed policies are ‘old solutions to old problems’. Instead of chasing similar ideas to his, their strategy appears to be creating a consistent and moderate alternative.
The Cooper camp remains optimistic they can beat Corbyn, but only if he gets 43 per cent or less on first preferences. If that happens, Team Cooper think she is in with a chance of beating, him as they believe Liz Kendall’s second preferences are overwhelmingly likely to break in their favour. Sources on her campaign also say that London is a weak area for Burnham — which represents 22 per cent of the party’s membership — as their internal telephone polling shows he is fourth place there, behind Kendall.
And what of Liz Kendall? Although her campaign correctly point out there are a lot of unknowns about this election, no one is seriously considering her to be the candidate who can beat Corbyn. While Kendall is continuing to fight on, Coffee House understands that Team Kendall’s internal analysis puts Burnham consistently ahead of Cooper.
In such contests, there is usually a spike of voting at the start — when the ballot papers land on doormats — and right at the end, after uncertain people have made up their minds. The activity from the Burnham and Cooper camps suggests they are keen to chase these undecided voters and argue they are the candidate who can beat Corbyn. But if the last opinion YouGov poll was right and he gets 50+ per cent in the first round, it’ll game over for Andy and Yvette.