If moderates want to stop Corbyn, they need to back Burnham

by Kevin Meagher

The most obvious point about the Yougov poll for The Times showing Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour leadership race on 43 per cent, is that 57 per cent of members are not backing him. A clear majority of Labour’s members do not support taking the party sharply to the left.

The other obvious point is that Corbyn’s wild card status in this contest, ostensibly to “broaden the debate” has spectacularly revealed just how little the parliamentary party and the professional class around Labour politics actually now understands the grassroots.

Corbyn was seen, to be brutally honest, as lefty ballast. A bit-part player to be politely tolerated while the serious professional politicians got on with it.

So how do party moderates now respond, having made what looks like a gigantic miscalculation?

If these polling figures bear any relation to the actual result, there is no room for complacency.

No-one thought a Granita-style pact was necessary in order to give the centrist, social democratic perspective in the party a clear run in this contest, but this is precisely what is needed.

It’s probably too late and too messy for anyone to drop out at this stage, but the Burnham, Cooper and Kendall camps need to appreciate the risk of a Corbyn victory and maximise the chances of a centrist winning.

The stakes could not be higher. This said, Jeremy Corbyn is not the devil incarnate. He is a deeply serious man who cares passionately about a range of often unpopular causes. There must always be room for people like him in a broad church Labour party. But what he isn’t – not by a long shot – is a potential prime minister of this country.

He is an Old Testament prophet, reassuring the party’s left that the old religion still holds strong. But what the party needs is an ecumenist who can reach out across the many social and geographical divides and galvanise a bigger congregation. Jeremy is not the man to do this. He would, quite simply, lead Labour to ruin.

So in order to prevent this possibility, the three other candidates need to make their second and even third preferences count. Again, taking the poll at face value, Liz Kendall on 11 per cent of first preferences, is clearly nowhere in this contest.

Her fraught relationship with Andy Burnham suggests that she would naturally prefer her supporters’ second preferences go to Yvette Cooper, but this would be a massive risk.

If Cooper then comes third and some of her centre-left support then leaches to Corbyn, it may give him the extra eight per cent he needs to win.

This is even more likely – a racing certainty, in fact – if Burnham comes third. He clearly has lots of centre-left support that would head straight to Corbyn if he was out of contention.

Whatever people’s views of Burnham, it is essential he stays in the contest. Kendall needs to bury the hatchet with him and use the next few weeks to accept the basic arithmetic of what is happening. Ditto, Yvette Cooper.

Of course this is just one poll a month before ballot papers go out and the party is unusually jumpy at the moment. But if Labour is to survive as a viable party of government any prospect of a Corbyn victory must be taken seriously and guarded against, before it is too late.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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22 Responses to “If moderates want to stop Corbyn, they need to back Burnham”

  1. Adam Gray says:

    So here we have it. The loony left is being told to vote for a candidate they have no respect for to their right in order to have a shot at winning power. Whatever is left of the Labour right is being told by Kevin here to vote for a candidate they have no respect for to have a shot at stopping someone even worse.

    Whatever the real politik behind these entreaties, it is utterly depressing, machine-politics, backroom cabal advice of the worst kind. And it will fail for exactly the same reason the “fall-in” demands behind Miliband resulted in May’s loss: because even if the disenchanted bite their tongue you end up with a mulch of rubbish policies no one understands, let alone wants to vote for.

    How is electing a leader who stands for everything and nothing at the same time and who cannot win an election any better than electing a leader who stands for something ridiculous and cannot win an election?

    I’m only singling out Burnham because that’s who those with a vote (no longer me) are being urged to support. The real issue is the nature of today’s Labour Party.

    A viable political party cannot – cannot – sustain members just 27% of whom believe electability is an important trait in a leader AS WELL AS an increasingly isolated, depleted set of people who want power but who can’t inspire us with what they’d do with it if they ever got it. It’s like trying to force oil to mix with water: it doesn’t work.

    It doesn’t work in it’s own terms because it doesn’t create a positive, coherent and happy party. And it doesn’t work in a wider context because slightly fewer benefits cuts; slightly less trade union reform; slightly more unsustainable borrowing – are not a product anyone will vote for enthusiastically in 2020 any more than they did in 2015.

    Do not vote for Burnham unless you positively believe Andy Burnham is the best candidate on offer. And that applies to all the candidates.

  2. paul barker says:

    What the poll shows is that a party that stretches from Kendall to Corbyn is simply not sustainable, a win for Burnham would lead to further slow decline & continuous civil war, having got this far the Left arent going to give up.

  3. David Walker says:

    Sorry Kevin, everyone’s voting for the Corbynator.

    …The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight…

  4. swatantra says:

    Lets face it JC has caught the imagination and the concerns of the majority of Labour members. And quite right too. I don’t feel that he would in fact lurch to the Left, as some of his supporters would like, because he knows the reality of the situation; he can see what happened in Greece that he Anti Austerity Govt in the end had to make substantial concessions; ypu can only play the cards you are dealt with, whatever may wish. Anyway, if Caroline Flint is elected DL then she will make sure that JC is kept on a even keel, and its steady as she goes as far as the Party is concerned. JC and CF will make a fine team

  5. Ryland1 says:

    On your analysis ( if 43% support Corbyn, 57% oppose him), then if 26% support Burnham, 74% oppose HIM so why would anyone think about supporting someone so obviously unsupported?

    Might it be that Corbyn actually articulates the views of party members? Might it be that the party denied any real input into the policy making apparatus, see someone who shares their abhorrence of austerity, Trident and meddling in foreign wars?

    Seems to me that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are out of touch with the members on almost every one of these issues.

    RE Burnham we don’t want someone who abstains in parliament then declares on social media that he will fight the bill when he sees the scale of rebellion. Awful politics

    As far as i can see, the longer the campaign goes on, the stronger he gets because people in my CLP really are sickened by Monday nights abstention and in my area at least he has increased support since Monday.

  6. Madasafish says:

    Any Party that votes for Corbyn and Watson is doing its best to ensure it converts no-one who voted Conservative in 2015 to vote Labour.

    As it needs to win those Tory votes to win Tory seats to form a Government , the conclusion is obvious..

  7. On the other hand, for those Burnham supporters who do not want Cooper to sneak through on second preferences, and are maybe thinking of putting Corbyn as their second preference, have a little think about it.

    We can be pretty sure that Burnham will be in the last two, so your second preference achieves little if Cooper is also there. She will have gathered the preferences from Kendall, and many Corbyn supporters seem not to want use their other preferences.

    Now think what happens if you reverse the order of your top two preferences. The worse that can happen is that you will help your original second preference win. Let’s call that a 75% success rate. On the other hand if Burnham and Cooper are slugging it out in the 12th round, your second preference may just move your guy over the finish line. That’s a 100% success rate. Any other result would of course be 50% or less.

  8. Tafia says:

    Andy Burnham – “Labour is ‘crying out for leadership’ after welfare vote”

    Says it all really. So Abstaining is leadership then is it?

  9. P Spence says:

    This analysis takes no account of the new £3 supporters who appear to be about 2/3 for Corbyn. There remains another three weeks for people to register. That suggests that if anything Corbyn’s vote is underestimated. Furthermore, the Left appear far better motivated than the Centre Right. There is a snowball effect here. And everytime the likes of Hunt patronise members by calling them “indulgent” and “populist”, the snowball gets bigger.

  10. Will says:

    i have been trying to read up on Corbyn. I am not sure how he got this hard left label.
    Unlike Benn he doesn’t seem very anti EEC. Did he indulge groups like Millitant?
    He did oppose the prices and incomes policy in 1979 but apart from that nothing very alarming.

  11. David Walker says:

    …The Corbynator doesn’t need to steal Cameron’s clothes, walk in his boots, or ride his motorcycle.

    Your future is in his hands!

  12. Philip Hall says:

    The problem is Burnham and Cooper are anodyne, uninspiring candidates. I don’t know what they believe in. They might be adequate if Labour were in a strong position, but are quite unsuited to the desperate position in which the party now finds itself. They won’t reach voters beyond the core, but neither will they satisfy ‘true believers’. It will be slow decline with them, not dramatic enough to trigger remedial action, akin to the frog slowly boiling to death as the pot sits on the stove.

    Kendall is the only one who can reach beyond the core vote, but she has misjudged her campaign. She is strong on what needs to change, but is unable to hit enough emotional buttons in the party to carry the election in the first place. A pity because if people looked at her ideas on devolution, early education and empowering people they’d see a genuine progressive and certainly not a pale tory. My guess is she’ll be back, but after more time to get rounded out. (Provided of course there is a party to come back to).

    All of which of course leave us screwed. Fighting a GE under Corbyn would make 1983 look like a good result. My guess would be 1983 [209 seats] – Scotland [about 40] = 170, less more marginal English and Wales losses so 140-150 seats. However, he might just provide enough of a shock in the near-term to force those who have been sleepwalking into some concrete action.

    The reality is Burnham and Cooper are fudge/machine candidates who should drop out, allowing the contest to be framed between the only candidates who believe anything and offer alternatives, i.e. Corbyn and Kendall. Corbyn would win, but the folly of the choice would quickly become apparent. By contrast, Burnham and Cooper would just offer painless euthanasia for the party.

  13. Rahaab says:

    Not convinced Burnham would be that mush less of a disaster.

  14. Madasafish says:


    Burnham has no convictions and has a background of incompetence (Save the NHS is two Elections as a slogan- worked well didn’t it?) and is tarred with Mid Staffs.. If he lead by example from the front, and could appeal to teh South he might overcome those…

    I agree with you.. He’l make Ed M appear desirable.

  15. Tafia says:

    Without looking it up or going on Google (because the voters won’t), list Corbyn’s beliefs on a piece of paper. Quite a list eh? Then list the other candidates beliefs. Not much there is there.

    Nobody knows what the others stand for – it’s as if they deliberately not committing. That makes people very very suspicious.

    As for the candidates? Corbyn is a man of principle but will never be PM unless the tories collapse. The other three will never be PM full stop.

  16. Kevin Meagher​ says what many of us still want to think.

  17. John R says:

    Burnham is Ed 2.0.

    Unfortunately, Mid Staffs hangs like an albatross around his neck. As Corbyn is going to be constantly reminded and asked about his “friends”, Hamas and Hezbollah, so Burnham will about Mid Staffs.

    Kendall seems too lightweight for leadership at the moment, so that leaves Cooper.

    She seems least bad and might well be able to pursue a holding operation against Tory onslaught. But it’s not particularly inspiring.

    I can understand the Corbyn surge, a kind of Millwall, “no one likes us, we don’t care, especially you, one Tony Blair”, alongside a preference for clear, blue water from the Tories.

    But, it ain’t gonna win an election.

  18. Robert says:

    If people want to stop Corbyn, all they have to do is give all of their preferences to the other three candidates. Simples!

  19. Tafia says:

    As Corbyn is going to be constantly reminded and asked about his “friends”, Hamas and Hezbollah

    Would this be the same Hamas and Hezbollah that we, the Americans and (reluctantly) even the Israelis are now providing with intelligence and logistical support because we need them in the fight against Daesh and the Caliphate, or are we talking some other Hamas and Hezbollah.

  20. DblEntry says:

    I’m actually seriously considering putting Corbyn as a 2nd preference. If Cooper or Burnham is elected the party will just limp on without facing up to the real challenges it faces.

  21. Helen says:

    In his paper Investment, growth and tax justice: Corbyn outlines economic vision & fairer taxes for Britain 2020. This is a clear outline of how the system could be improved with benefits for the “non” rich people. I think he is accurate in what he says. But politics is not about facts but is about power. A quick look at 2015 election expenditure shows that the Tories spent 8.7 million more than Labour and this gained them 12 seats. Enough to implement their greedy self serving policies. Money is power physically and emotionally. My question is how could Corbyn lead the party to victory when the money and power are stacked against the left. It is the media that is setting the agenda and they are ridiculing the left. Tony Blair had a formula that worked in this environment – love or hate him – but why not use his formula for winning?

  22. Dyson says:

    Why Corbyn is winning – and how Labour’s moderates can stop him – MaltaToday. Labour s moderates would have to argue that it is important for the party to stay in the game in anticipation of another close election result, and not throw it away by choosing a leader who would split the party, lacks prime-ministerial credibility and has a narrow electoral appeal.

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