Corbyn leads polls despite wide party dissent

Jeremy Corbyn may not be challenging Theresa May in national polls, but still looks set to win in a Labor party leadership contest.

Yoel Domb ,

UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

London, Sept 12, 2016 (AFP) - Britain's Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may be crashing in opinion polls one year after taking charge Monday -- but still looks set to sweep to victory in a leadership contest.

Corbyn, a 67-year-old socialist known for his anti-war, anti-austerity campaigning and opposition to the party's former centrist leader Tony Blair, won a crushing leadership victory exactly 12 months ago.

While his left-wing policies are popular with many grassroots supporters, they do not impress most of the party's more moderate lawmakers, who say such views cannot win general elections.

The rebel lawmakers are supporting a leadership challenge by MP Owen Smith and the result will be announced at the party's annual conference on September 24.

Corbyn is tipped to win big again due to support from activists and trade
unions which control a large number of votes.

But critics fear that this could extend Labour's period in the electoral wilderness as new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May consolidates her grip on power.

"Mr Corbyn has tapped a huge well of political energy and dissatisfaction," the Guardian, a broadsheet popular with Labour voters, said in an editorial last month. "But he also has some of the most dismal ratings among Labour voters and the general public of any Labour leader ever, and these ratings are in decline."

'Cannot go on like this'

The party of Blair and Gordon Brown, which lost power in 2010, is trailing May's ruling Conservatives by an average of 11 points, according to the Nuffield series of British General Election studies.

No Labour party has faced such a deficit 12 months after electing a new leader since modern polling began in the 1950s, according to a Press Association analysis.

A poll at the end of August found only 19 percent of Britons thought Corbyn was the right person to lead the government, compared to 51 percent for May.

Over a summer of strife, around 20 members of his shadow cabinet resigned and 172 out of the party's 230 MPs voted that they had no confidence in his leadership.

Many were disillusioned with what they considered a lacklustre performance by Corbyn in trying to persuade voters to stay in the European Union in June's referendum.

A wave of Labour-dominated areas were among those to back Brexit. He has also faced claims of anti-Semitism in the party. An internal inquiry in June, called "manipulative and unprofessional" by anti-Semitism expert Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, found Labour was not overrun by anti-Semitism but reported an "occasionally toxic atmosphere".

Labour's most senior elected figure, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, is among those opposed to Corbyn's leadership.

"Jeremy's personal ratings are the worst of any opposition leader on record and the Labour party is suffering badly as a result," Khan wrote in The Observer newspaper last month.

"He has lost the confidence of more than 80 percent of Labour's MPs in parliament -- and I am afraid we simply cannot afford to go on like this," he added.

However, Corbyn's position remains solid thanks to the backing of powerful trade unions and his vociferous grassroots supporters. Labour's membership has topped a record 500,000 under him.

According to a YouGov poll, he is expected to win a crushing victory against Smith of 62 percent to 38 percent.

This would put mean Corbyn would win by an even bigger margin than in last year's vote, which he took with 59.5 percent support.