Bizarre news story in the Sunday Telegraph. Patrick Hennessey writes about a “secret poll” of Labour activists, commissioned by Compass. He continues “So sensitive was its timing, amid claims that the contest to choose the party’s next leader is already under way, that its very existence was kept under wraps and it is understood that there is no intention to make its results public.”
It’s existance was “kept under wraps” in the sense that some other findings from the poll were reported a week ago in the Guardian, and it is “understood that there is no intention to make the results public” in the sense that they are up on the YouGov website.
Taking the Royal Mail questions that were reported in the Guardian first, two-thirds of Labour party members were opposed to the part-privatisation and wanted to keep the Royal Mail wholly publically owned. 24% supported the government’s plans, and 5% would go further and support complete privatisation. YouGov also tested reactions to the alternative that the Royal Mail could be run like the BBC – an independently-run, non-profit, public corporation. This was more popular (backed by 32%) than privatising it partially (15%) or wholly (3%), but still backed by fewer people than the status quo (43%).
In contrast there was more support for another controversial government policy. Asked about the government’s proposals to force recipients of Job Seeker’s Allowance to show they are seeking work or risk losing benefit, 50% of party members said it should still go ahead as planned, with 46% saying it should be delayed or scrapped.
Looking at the views of Labour party members on other issues they somewhat to the left of the government itself – fitting the normal perception that party members tend to be slighly less centrist than their leaders. Overwhelmingly (80%) Labour party members think the government could raise taxes on people earning over £100,000 without damaging the economy. A similar proportion (81%) support the idea of a windfall tax on utility companies.
On the broader issues, only a small minority (13%) of Labour party members saw the present crisis as the cue for Britain to abandon capitalism. However, many more (47%) thought that capitalism should be “radically reformed”, with much greater regulation of large companies, bans on large bonuses and workers representatives on company boards. 32% said they backed much more limited extra regulation.
Asked directly to place themselves and Gordon Brown on a left-right scale, Labour party members tend to describe themselves as “fairly left-wing”, but Gordon Brown as only “slightly left of centre”. Changing the descriptions into a numerical scale of -100 to +100, as Peter Kellner normally does with these polls, gives an average of -44 for Labour party members, while they perceive Gordon Brown as being at -20.
Before people draw too many conclusions from this, remember that it isn’t unusual, it’s par for the course. You would no doubt find Conservative members to see themselves as much more right wing than David Cameron. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Labour will find itself forced left by its members, nor that members will vote for a more left wing leader after Gordon Brown – just because Labour members are more left wing, doesn’t mean they don’t realise that elections tend to won from the centre and will vote for a leader more centrist than themselves, as they did with Tony Blair.
Finally, YouGov also asked party members whether they thought senior figures were doing well, the bit that the Sunday Telegraph got all excited about.
Most importantly Gordon Brown continues to have the support of his party members – 77% think he is doing well, though a minority (21%) of his party members think he is doing badly. Alistair Darling and David Miliband’s ratings are broadly similar, less popular with their rank and file membership are Peter Mandelson (62% to 30%) and Harriet Harman (58% to 32%). Lowest rated is Jacqui Smith, with 56% of party members thinking she is doing well, but 39% badly.
UPDATE: David Prescott cheekily suggests that Compass asked those left-right scale questions in the hope that Labour members would see Peter Mandleson as more right wing than David Cameron. Needless to say, they didn’t.