Tories For Corbyn Wasn’t Such A Bad Idea After All
BY TOBY YOUNG
I was in the green room at ITN’s Gray’s Inn Road headquarters on the night of the 2017 General Election and I wasn’t enjoying myself, not least because Owen Jones was there, whooping with delight every time a constituency was called for Labour. After it became obvious that Jeremy Corbyn had had a better-than-expected night, he couldn’t resist coming over to rub my nose in it. “Your ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign doesn’t look so clever now, does it Toby?” he said.
That was a reference to a bit of fun I had during Labour’s 2015 leadership contest when I urged conservative-minded voters to join the Party and vote for Corbyn. Thanks to Ed Miliband, you could become an ‘associate member’ with full voting rights for the princely sum of £3. The only other hurdle was an online form you had to fill in explaining why you wanted to join and I made the mistake of saying, “So I can vote for Corbyn and consign Labour to electoral oblivion.” That was enough for my application to be blocked, although – typical Labour – my £3 was never refunded.
In the end Corbyn won by a landslide, polling more votes than the other three candidates combined, so if any Tories followed my advice it didn’t make any difference. But since then I have experienced occasional pangs of regret nevertheless. When Owen button-holed me on election night, my rejoinder was that if Yvette Cooper was leader, Labour might have actually won, but the words rang hollow. With 40% of the popular vote, considerably more than Tony Blair polled in 2005 (35.2%) to secure his third parliamentary majority, it was only thanks to the collapse of the Lib Dems (7.4%) that Corbyn didn’t end up in Downing Street. Knowing that Tim Farron was the only thing standing between a minority Tory government and full-on socialist Armageddon wasn’t a good feeling.
I began to experience the same terror when the Conservatives’ poll lead collapsed after the government lost the third meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in March. A ComRes poll in the Express in April had the Tories on 23% and Labour on 33%, Corbyn’s biggest lead since the election. A Panelbase poll in the Sunday Times in May, after the Conservatives’ disastrous showing in the European election, put the party on 21% and two weeks later an Opinium poll in the Observer had us on 17%. Talk about squeaky bum time! It was beginning to look as if Corbyn was heading for Number 10.
Then came the replacement of Theresa May with Boris Johnson and things began to look up. In most polls following his election, the Tories got a ‘Boris boost’ and now it was Labour trailing in the low 20s. But no poll has been as good for the Conservatives as the YouGov one published yesterday.
The headline figure was eye-catching enough – Cons on 37% and Lab on 22% – but that was the least of it. Among those who voted Leave, respondents preferred Boris to Corbyn as Prime Minister to Corbyn by 73% to 6% – which perhaps isn’t all that surprising – but among women Boris also led by 38% to 20%. Even in London, long thought to be a Labour stronghold, Boris has re-discovered some of his Mayoral magic, and is preferred to Corbyn by 32% to 29%. And among C2DE voters – otherwise known as the working class – Boris is preferred to Corbyn by a whopping 38% to 24%. So much for the people’s party!
But the most astonishing finding of all in this poll is that Boris is leading among 18-24 year-olds. That’s right, 18-24 year-olds. At the last election, Labour enjoyed a 35-point lead among this age group according to Ipsos MORI, but now, apparently, Boris is ahead of Corbyn by 32% to 29%. No wonder Corbyn didn’t go to Glastonbury this year! It seems the bloom has gone off the Labour rose, as far as young people are concerned. The magic grandpa has disappeared in a puff of wacky baccy.
I don’t know whether there’ll be another election this year, or whether we’ll have to wait for next year. But assuming Corbyn isn’t defenestrated by John McDonnell, I’m looking forward to seeing Owen Jones again in the ITN green room. This time, I suspect it’ll be me buttonholing him.
Toby Young is a broadcaster, writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @toadmeister