Could Jeremy Corbyn come out of the Labour leadership contest with an even bigger mandate? Few would be surprised and a new poll on the front page of the Times today suggests that such an outcome is highly likely. The YouGov survey indicates Corbyn is beating his rival Owen Smith by 62 per cent to 38 per cent amongst Labour voters – a result which would gift him a three per cent spike on last year’s vote, when he won 59.5 per cent. This would spell disaster for those challenging Corbyn and make it almost certain that the Labour leader would still be in place come a 2020 general election. Yet whilst many have predicted such a convincing win for Corbyn could result in a split, as Isabel Hardman points out in the magazine this week, it’s worth remembering that talk of political realignment in Britain usually comes to nothing. So could an uneasy status quo continue after September 24th, when we’ll find out who wins?
If so, it’s worth remembering that the tension doesn’t only exist amongst pro- and anti-Corbyn MPs. Amidst all the chatter about the two rival factions within the Labour party itself, the poll also gives a sense of the gaping disparity contained in the membership – the ones tasked with picking the party’s new leader. ‘New’ and ‘Old Labour’ are terms which have become hackneyed in their reference to policies. Now, this distinction speaks for the gap between new Labour members – those who have joined since last September – and older Labour members, who have been around since before Ed Miliband was done for at the ballot box last May. In the former camp, 88 per cent back Corbyn; whilst for those who have been Labour members for longer, the popularity reversal puts Smith on 68 per cent to Corbyn’s 32 per cent. This is quite extraordinary and once again, as if we didn’t need it, gives a glimpse of the huge divisions which exist throughout the ramshackle remnants of the Labour party.
So will Labour split? It’s hard to say. But it is easier to predict that a win for Corbyn will lead to an exodus of Smith voters (a third, according to the Times poll), and a similar urge amongst Corbynistas to head for the door should the unlikely happen and Smith triumph. What seems guaranteed is that there’ll be trouble ahead then. And if today’s poll is anything to go on, there’ll be misery for those Labour MPs still clinging onto the distant hope of ousting Corbyn, starting afresh and pretending their nightmare never happened.