Would Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May make a better Prime Minister? In April, when Theresa May called the election, that question was barely worth asking: 54 per cent backed May compared to just 15 per cent who opted for Corbyn. Now that’s all changed. For the first time, Jeremy Corbyn has overtaken Theresa May on the question of who would do the best job running the country. A YouGov poll in the Times today puts Corbyn on 35 per cent; just 34 per cent picked the PM.
We don’t necessarily need a YouGov survey to tell us but this demonstrates the utter collapse in Theresa May’s popularity. More troublingly for the Tory party, it also shows exactly why the party should be so worried about the prospect of a fresh general election. Not since Tony Blair was in office has a Labour leader been ahead of a Tory leader on this question. This means, remarkably, that Jeremy Corbyn is doing what Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband failed to do and has turned Labour into a credible threat to the Tories. For Corbyn, who has not so much regained his confidence as found it for the first time, this YouGov poll will puff him up further. For the Conservatives, it shows the wisdom in the widely-held view that now is not the time to move against Theresa May.
The problem for the Government however is that once a leader’s poll rating starts to plummet, it’s difficult to reverse that trajectory. Leaving Theresa May in place buys time for the party; but it does little to address the problem that voters are rapidly turning against Theresa. In the last YouGov poll, which was carried out just two weeks’ ago, May was 11 points ahead of Corbyn on who would make the better PM. It’s difficult to see, at least without Corbyn making a huge blunder, how that survey won’t be the last for a while that puts May ahead of Corbyn.
Of course, as James Kirkup points out on Coffee House, it’s not impossible for political leaders to pull it back. After all, just take a look at Jeremy Corbyn. But it’s rare to do so and with a wafer-thin Queen’s Speech and the looming task of Brexit now underway, Theresa May and the Tories will struggle to offer voters the kind of sweeteners which they probably need to get them back on board. What’s more, on the subject of Brexit, the YouGov poll offers another worrying insight for the Tories: the Times points out that only a fifth of ‘Remain’ voters back May. Admittedly Corbyn has a similar problem among Brexit voters (of which just 19 per cent want him to be PM). But this shows that Brexit remains one of the great fault lines running through British politics. It’s unlikely this will change much any time soon – making May’s chances of turning it around even slimmer.