Chaminda Jayanetti, The Independent
It seems the man with the Mandela placard is seen as no more trustworthy or principled than Boris Johnson. An Opinium poll published over the weekend found that less than a quarter of the public thinks Corbyn is “trustworthy” — a lower share than Johnson — and 36 per cent find him principled, the same as the prime minister.
It’s quite an achievement. Johnson, after all, drafted an article backing Remain days before coming out for Leave. His venality and lust for power are infamous.
Jeremy Corbyn is meant to be his antithesis — the principled backbench rebel who shunned all chances at political advancement in favour of pursuing his own unfashionable causes.
Corbyn’s ratings on every other front are terrible. Only 16 per cent of people think he is “best to negotiate with the EU” — fewer than one in six. Less than a fifth think he is a strong leader and able to get things done. Only one in five say he “represents what most people think” — quite the failing for a man who is meant to stand for the people Westminster forgot.
This is an extraordinary disintegration for someone whose reputation is built on honesty and principle — “straight talking, honest politics” — fighting someone known for his lack of either. The veteran socialist has largely struggled to win over the British public since unexpectedly becoming Labour leader in 2015. But in the early days, despite a full blooded media onslaught against him, it was common to hear people say that whilst they didn’t agree with him, they respected how he stood by his principles.
Brexit has put paid to that. Britain’s Leave vote was always a challenge for Labour, one that any leader, drawn from any wing of the party, would have struggled to rise to. But the quiet triangulation that saw Labour through the 2017 general election has become increasingly blatant and absurd — and voters have noticed.
Having taken so long — via so much public flip-flopping — to commit to a second referendum, the party has pulled off the unenviable achievement of sounding like a pro-Remain party to Leave voters, while coming across as pro-Brexit to angry Remainers. When people don’t trust the leader, they’ll fill in the blanks for themselves.
Corbyn’s supporters argue that we’ve been here before. The 2017 election campaign saw an unprecedented turnaround in Corbyn’s personal ratings; such a recovery had never happened before during a British general election. Aided by Theresa May’s disastrous manifesto and insipid campaigning style, Corbyn was able to get on the front foot while focusing on his political passions – railing against poverty, inequality and austerity. Voters who saw him for the first time without the “guidance” of negative press coverage flocked to Labour.Corbynites are effectively betting the house that lightning strikes twice – not just the House of Commons in fact, but their entire political project.
Corbyn’s leadership represents the best chance socialists like John McDonnell will ever have of winning power and transforming Britain’s economic model. It is a chance they never dreamed they would get before the dramatic Labour leadership election in 2015.
But if an election is held before Brexit is passed, it will be difficult for Labour to focus voters’ attention away from the Leave-Remain divide. Johnson may by then be shedding centrist votes to the Lib Dems, but a late switch to unequivocal support for a second referendum could be too late for Labour to hold its own fragmenting coalition of voters together.Johnson, for his part, has secured a “Boris Bounce” in the polls, squeezing Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party without shedding too much support to the Lib Dems. Yet the resulting Tory leads are smaller than those enjoyed by past leaders in their honeymoon periods – and May was unable to convert her yawning leads over Corbyn into electoral success.
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