If Labour splits…

Over on the YouGov website I’ve written about an experiment we did looking at how the votes might fall in the event that the Labour party did split (the tabs are here). As I say in the article, this needs a thousand caveats – in what proportions has Labour split? Which party is the main opposition with all the publicity that implies? Who is the leader of the anti-Corbyn Labour party, and what sort of policies are they following? How did the split happen? Respondents don’t know, so this can only be a straw in the wind.

The important things to take away are these:

One – there is a sizeable chunk of the Labour vote who are brand loyalists, in the event of a split they would keep on voting for Labour, regardless of whether the left has split away or the right has split away. Just as the faction that is left controlling the Labour party will get the party’s property and assets, they’ll also get that base loyalist vote. Looking at this poll, it seems to be about 28% of the current Labour vote (so about 8% of the national vote)

Two – a lot of Labour voters would go with the left if the Corbyn was somehow ousted and his supporters left. A smaller group of current Labour voters would go with the right if they left, but they’d pick up more support from don’t knows, current Lib Dems and so on. A Labour splinter group of either side would start with around-about 13-14% (again, there are a thousand caveats to this, so don’t take that as set in stone).

Three – the sum total of the support which the two rival Labour parties would be slightly more than the current Labour party (between them they’d get about 34%, compared to Labour’s current polling figures that are around or just under 30%). Under a proportional voting system this might be a good thing. Under First Past the Post this would likely be disastrous for them, splitting the Labour vote and allowing the Conservatives (or UKIP, or whoever) to gain more seats from them. Exactly how bad it would be we cannot tell without knowing how their votes would be distributed geographically, whether individual Labour MPs would be able to retain the Labour vote in their own constituencies. It is likely to be pretty nasty though.

Finally, given the purpose of the exercise was to see what proportion of Labour voters would stick with the “Labour brand” in the event of a party split, we were faced with the problem of what to call the splitters in each scenario. We wouldn’t call them the “anti-Corbyn Labour party” or “Corbyn Labour party” or whatever as the whole point is that they would NOT be the Labour party, we had to give them a new made-up name. But what? In the end we tried it out with various different names to try and cancel out any effect from choosing a compelling or duff name – “Momentum”, “People’s Party”, “Moderates”, “Progress”, “Radicals”, “Social Democrats” – none of the names seemed to make much difference, whatever we called it, the splitters got around 13-15%.

165 Responses to “If Labour splits…”

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  1. Running those polls through Electoral Calculus leaves Labour relatively intact – on 180-odd seats, while the splitters would get zero. Of course, that’s with all the caveats Anthony gives. The splitter party would obviously not get a uniform 13/14%, their votes would be heavily concentrated in seats with sitting Labour MPs (some of which would take their CLP machinery and membership with them).

  2. AW

    Thanks for this, very interesting

  3. An Interesting article, of course the big question of the day is still EU membership – and could well be come 2020. Corbyns labour party would presumably be anti EU while the rightwing labourites would be certainly pro the EU.

    If Labour continue as they are and Corbyn remains leader in 2020 then Labour will probably have a mixed and muddled answer on the EU, which pleases noone and leaves both Labours much worse off

  4. The almost religious fervour that some on both sides of the dispute in the Labour Party are conducting the affair is reminiscent of the disputes in the early 20th century within the United Free Church of Scotland. [1]


    Much intolerance and hatred was shown by factions within both what were termed the “Zealots” and the “Moderates”.[2]

    If only Anthony had been around with his polls in the 1920s, both sides might have been aware of their potential fates [3] (good article, Anthony!)

    [1] In that too, Labour party members and MPs were

    [2] As in the modern Labour Party, the term “moderates” was used in an internal factional manner – quite unknown to other speakers of English.

    [3] Translating that conflict into the nearest equivalent modern political terms, the split in the Kirk resulted in the Moderates joining the Tories, while the ideologically pure became a fringe movement, which has continued to split further. Plus ca change ……

  5. Interesting article on YouGov’s website and the summary above.

    Just one question – why does the “won’t vote” share vary depending the demography tables (so different for the table on party affiliation and the table on regions)?

  6. @oldnat – no, I don’t think is has much relevance.

    In general (and please sometimes allow some generalizations here) the moderate sectors of Labour and the wider left don’t use the language of ‘betrayal’, ‘sell out’, ‘capitalist lackey’ etc. They disagree in tactical or strategic terms, but there is much less questioning of the personal morality and motives of the other lot.

    A very good example has been he response to Owen Jones heartfelt blogs on the Corbynistas. He was polite, understanding and critical, but not offensive or personal.

    The response he received, which was held up by some UKPR posters as ‘soft’ and a worthwhile response, was to be branded a petulant, self important sell out, only caring about his own career and position within the party.

    It was really, very extraordinary to see, and is typical of the approach often taken to internal opponents who dare to disagree. I’m afraid there is a strong strand of intolerance within this part of the political spectrum, and it really isn’t biase to point this out.

  7. What’s interesting about that poll, albeit on a hypothetical question, is that the combined VI for the Disloyal Backstabbing Blairite Bastards Party and the Democratic Socialist Peoples’ Party of Corbynistan, is 3-4% higher than the current VI for Labour, according to most recent polls.

    Now if the two factions could agree between themselves which seats are best targeted by which faction, and agree not to oppose each other, they could do quite well at the next GE.

    But, that won’t happen, as this is the Labour Party we’re talking about.

  8. @ Alec

    “the wider left don’t use the language of ‘betrayal’”

    You haven’t listened to the lyrics of the Red Flag recently, have you?

  9. @ David Carrod

    But the tables quite clearly show that the results are unadjusted, so they are not comparable to the usual VI.

    But, yes, probably there won’t be peace in the LP.

  10. @Planky – yes, I also think EU membership will be a big issue for Labour. Corbyn is anti, which is really the reason for the current coup (something that his supporters don’t seem to appreciate – he performed very poorly in the campaign, and failed to adequately present his parties policy. This is what is known as ‘solidarity’).

    My guess (and possibly the polling evidence) is that a Labour party campaigning for a second referendum would be more likely to be in touch with their voter base, especially if Brexit looks like being uncomfortable (see this mornings PMI data!). A split which has the EU membership issue as a clearly defined fault line could well create significant issues for the Corbyn side of the split, as the natural supporters of the left aren’t natural supporters of Brexit. The voters that do back Brexit are more likely to be discomfited by Corbyn if he remains relaxed about immigration.

    The left lost out in the EU debate in the 1970’s, and circumstance might mean history repeats itself again now, although there are some very big if’s in there.

  11. “You haven’t listened to the lyrics of the Red Flag recently, have you?”

    Umm – yes. That’s the point I was making.

    [Hint: Who tends to want to sing the Red Flag?].

  12. I reposted a comment I’d made on the previous thread about how Blairism had improved the support for children leaving care out of all recognition.
    It’s gone into moderation but the previous post is still there.

  13. Alec

    I presume your response to me was on my comment in the previous thread, and not to my observations on the similarities with the Free Kirk?

    You may not agree with those either, of course. :-)

  14. Alec

    I don’t know who wants to sing the Red Flag, but I do know that here in cambridge the corbyn supporters don’t know the words and weren’t even enthusiastic enough to na na na along to the tune

  15. Valerie (& Alec)

    Anthony used to say that he preferred new threads not simply to be continuations of the previous one.

  16. @Alec
    “the moderate sectors of Labour and the wider left don’t use the language of ‘betrayal’, ‘sell out’, ‘capitalist lackey’ etc. They disagree in tactical or strategic terms, but there is much less questioning of the personal morality and motives of the other lot.”

    They use different words like trots, rabble, louts, cult etc. [snip]

  17. @ Alec

    While I respect many of your comments, and learn from them, I won’t respond to any of your comments on the LP as you commit every single fallacies that are in epistemology textbooks, and making it impossible to engage with your points (as you keep on changing them whenever you are caught out). I would rather read @ Colin’s harsh, but supported and penetrating comments on this subject.

    Just here: the Red Flag (whatever is your view about it) is still a kind of official anthem of the LP, sung at the end of the conferences – even during the Blair years (my reference was for the second verse).

    You also said above “Corbyn is anti, which is really the reason for the current coup (something that his supporters don’t seem to appreciate – he performed very poorly in the campaign, and failed to adequately present his parties policy.”

    Two things. Tristan Hunt on the 1st of November called for a resistance movement against Corbyn (and claimed that th elite should lead the LP); on 23 October there were calls for leadership challenges. In that week Lord Warner and Lord Grabiner resigned from the whip claiming that they have nothing to do with Corbyn’s LP. It went like this during the 10 month.

    Secondly, Corbyn did not go against the party policy on the EU, he actually campaigned pretty well, while the official LP campaigners were really pitiful. Blaming Corbyn for people from the disadvantaged places voting for Brexit is rather rich.

  18. Laszlo

    Colin would never split an infinitive either.

    “to adequately represent”

    Bloody splitters! :-)

  19. Colin would also get his HTML right! :-)

  20. UKIP doing their best to keep Labour out of the news today. Looks like full meltdown now they have excluded Woolfe. Three resignations and the main donor threatening to set up a new party!

  21. Assuming the the Right split with most MPs the splitters’ 14% would be concentrated in current Labour seats. In those seats the Labour vote would hence be divided even more thoroughly, meaning even more Labour seats lost.

    Around 170 would hence be the maximum Labour would be able to retain. With in all likelihood the total going down to 150 or even lower.

  22. Probably won’t go down too well on here, but hats off to Owen Smith. Someone has finally grasped the nettle and wants a flat rate on pension tax relief of between 25 – 30%, which will boost all basic rate pension savers considerably, while also saving taxpayers billions.

    With these savings he wants to reverse cuts to in work benefits, increase the minimum wage to the living age level, and extend this to all under 25s.

    Policy wise, Smith is running rings around Corbyn, but I doubt this will make much difference.

  23. @Richo – that UKIP story could be a silver lining in Labour’s cloud?

  24. Oldnat

    Anthony used to say that he preferred new threads not simply to be continuations of the previous one.

    Hehe. Difficult to see how this works in this case. A post on Labour splits seems perfectly timed to energise UKPR’s Jacobins and Thermidorians.

  25. Alec,

    “Who tends to want to sing the Red Flag?”

    Drunk Labour Students on the right of the party, if we’re being honest. Though your other points are well made!

    The soft left, old right and New Labour are mostly being genuine when they say we all agree on broad goals. The hard left in many cases does not believe them.

    That’s the point of contention that causes this chaos. The 75% of the parliamentary party from the centre leftwards that opposes Corbyn can’t quite grasp why the more hardcore Corbyn supporters are being SO nasty to them.

    While they’re viewed by those people as deceitful traitors, they simply think the Corbynites are naive. And it’s certainly possible for naive people to drive you up the wall, but it’s hard to properly hate them.

  26. Muddy Waters

    But, theoretically, the previous thread was on the YG indy poll. :-)

    Talking of which …..

    As Anthony points out, all the numbers in this poll are pretty speculative, but an added complication for Lab and its variant in Scotland, is whether one or both become independent of their London HQ, or become even more autonomous than the already “wholly autonomous” SLab, or revert to “direct rule” – or whatever.

    In terms of support, SLab is already a rump. Would the two cheeks of that rump have different stances on indy/DevoMax or the EU?

    How would the “left wing” or “right wing” one find a distinctive electoral position between them, their ex-colleagues, Tories, Lib Dems, SNP, SGP, and SSP? It’s a very crowded market here!

  27. While interesting, particularly in that only ~8% of the electorate have a loyalty to the Labour “brand”, a key issue with the poll is that the respondents will have made some hidden assumptions about the split.

    For instance, a “split” may well be viewed as a 50-50 division, and respondents will then put themselves in one or other half. But if the split is (or is perceived) as being very substantially unequal (e.g. a handful of Blairites or a handful of Corbynites leaving), the number of voters going with the splitters may be much smaller. Equally, brand loyalty may turn out to be smaller if almost all of the PLP leave, so that only a rump of the party is left in parliament.

    But what is particularly striking is the potential for getting votes from elsewhere:

    about 20-25% of LDs would go with the moderate wing
    both UKIP and “Other” go equally for the two halves
    DKs split strongly in favour of the “moderate” wing
    the number of non-voters is barely affected.

    This seems to knock on the head the idea that a more radical left-wing agenda/rhetoric will capture disenchanted voters. It is the moderate wing that seems to havew the better chance to do this.

  28. @ Mr Nameless

    I guess persistent hate will be defined in the BSM-V or VI.

    More importantly, this brand-faithful thing in YouGov is very interesting. It would be nice to know more about these people – their demography if it is important (the cross breaks are not good enough to draw conclusions), or just simply about them.

    As to the LP leadership contest – it is really a farce now. Smith says he would reverse the Universal Credit Cap. It is the same guy who, when Corbyn announced it last year at the TUC conference, hurried to BBC (as shadow minister) to say, that he disagreed, because Labour should look like a responsible party with the money. So, he agreed with the cuts. His next promise will be planting a money tree (I can give him a piece for grafting).

    I now officially switched off from this contest unless Yougov or another polling company does some research on the members (there are still seem to be two more pollings – I know that this one wasn’t about the members, but I think it was the one I had heard about).

  29. His next promise will be planting a money tree

    All politicians of any party claim to have a money tree, enabling them to make promises they can’t deliver on.

    This is not a problem for those in opposition, but becomes a bit tricky when in power, as they actually have to get the money tree to bear fruit.

  30. @ David Carrod

    I actually like responsible politicians – from any party. It is not the same thing as conviction of one or another cause, but awareness of the constraints. Whether they are right or wrong about the constraints, or if they are right about the strength of that constraint is a different matter – it enables discussions on policies.

  31. Owen on news night supporting the cap.


  32. @Laszlo – Smith may not be being inconsistent here (I say may, as I don’t know, and this may be a case of opportunism).

    Last year, when Corbyn announced this, he didn’t appear to have a means to fund it.

    Today, Smith has identified a potential huge saving, depending where he draws the pension tax relief line. This really is a biggie, and can bring in billions of savings, while improving pensions for 80% of workers. I can’t recall the figures, but at 30% flat rate I recall £8b savings, so if it was 25% the government would have even more to play with.

    So it may be wise not to look at this in isolation, but try to understand that Smith has today proposed a massive redistribution of wealth, which will benefit 80% of income tax payers but particularly low paid and young workers.

    It appears coherent, but I do accept it could equally be inspired by opportunism. But weren’t you the one that said this is only about the Labour party electorate, and nothing else matters?

  33. @Mark W

    Owen on Newsnight explaining Labour policy *under Jeremy Corbyn*. He stated that he had discussed it with Corbyn.

    Corbyn then says something different. Maybe this is just the very first instance of what has been a recurring pattern with Corbyn’s “leadership”.

  34. Is anyone in the Labour Membership actually listening to Policy differences between the two candidates? Have there been any head to head hustings where theses have been aired?

    Or is this election being voted on purely on the personalities-like him; don’t like him. ??

  35. Just on that brand loyalty in the topic.

    It would be interesting how these people describe the brand. The ESRC funded research gives some indications, but the research questions were different.

    I suppose the real question would be if they took a generic (or own label) product instead of the branded one. It does seem that Smith is going for the generic, and Corbyn for the brand, but how this is perceived by the membership (and the affiliates and the supporters).

    It also seems that this brand thing was an outcome of YouGov’s poll and not the (one of) purpose, but I find this the most fascinating.

  36. @ Colin

    There will be five head to head and of these two or three will be broadcast.

    Smith wants more, Corbyn doesn’t want to give him this supply of air.

    I suppose the competition is nothing else but: Corbyn or not-Corbyn rather than Corbyn vs Smith or policies.

    Having said that th affiliates are b ing consulted (whatever that means).

  37. As I see it this poll also estimates a cap for labour Party vote overall, given the 8% core vote, 2 x 13% for each faction, plus an additional 4% that each think Labour isn’t right/left wing enough.

    That makes a maximum 38% Labour vote if EVERYONE that might support labour votes for them.

    Conversely, didn’t the Tories hit 40% plus in a recent poll?

    by implication, Labour’s peak potential is well below the Tory’s…

  38. Talk of “war” in UKIP now!

    The smooth transition in Cons stands in huge contrast to both Labour & UKIP.

    Wonder if UKIP VI will start to slip too?

  39. LASZLO

    Ah -thanks. Will watch out for the broadcast ones.

    It certainly sounds to outsiders like a personality contest at present -or ideology I suppose?

    If so one wonders what Smith hopes to achieve by the constant drip of policy announcements.

  40. Colin

    It will be decided on trust, with the policies that Smith has announced I’d be prepared to back him over corbyn if it wasn’t for the coup and other shenigans, but i don’t trust him. For me the problem is there is no way for the membership to remove a dishonest leader, the only vote of confidence we can make in the leadership is whether to remain members or not

  41. @Robin
    “only ~8% of the electorate have a loyalty to the Labour “brand”, … what is particularly striking is the potential for getting votes from elsewhere:”

    Many people in general elections vote for “their” party. Some vote for “their” candidate. Some vote for (or against) a particular policy. Some vote for a government.
    The last lot won’t vote for a party which looks incapable of forming a stable government which will govern the country reasonably sensibly taking account of the fact that over half the electorate have not voted for it. (I suspect that is one reason why UKIP’s vote was not higher)
    What is particularly striking is the potential for losing votes to the Tories (or to the Don’t Knows)
    That is why (to quote some press comment) May has already ‘parked her tanks on the Labour lawn’ (and on the UKIP lawn, too, while the SNP can’t get any more HoC seats unless they stand in England!)

  42. Here is a good blog from Channel 4 fact check which shows the differences in Corbyn & Smith’s policies.

  43. V. useful link, Liz. Given the discussion concerning whether Corbyn has any policies, and whether Owen has been snaffling them, this bit is especially salient…

    “Have they been stolen from Jeremy Corbyn?

    Some straight lifts

    By our reckoning, at least eight of these 20 policies have already been endorsed by the current Labour leadership:

    Jeremy Corbyn pledged to ban zero-hours contracts while running for the leadership in 2015 and has repeated the promise since then.

    He also called for an above-inflation pay rise for public sector workers in last year’s campaign.

    He has repeatedly said that a Labour government would repeal the Trade Union Act, which makes it harder for unions to launch industrial action.

    Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in March that he would also bring the top rate of tax back to 50p.

    Mr Corbyn said the Conservatives should scrap the reductions in corporation tax and capital gains tax announced in the last Budget in order to safeguard Personal Independence Payments for the disabled.

    He previously criticized George Osborne’s decision to raise the inheritance tax threshold announced in the 2015 Summer Budget, and called for the tax to be “graded” to target the richest homeowners.

    Jeremy Corbyn has also called for an end to fuel poverty and a “renewable energy revolution”.

    Mr McDonnell sought to make some political capital out of the plan for a new Ministry for Labour, saying he endorsed this idea when it was included in a manifesto published by a union-backed think-tank called the Institute of Employment Rights back in June.

    It’s true that the the institute also called for a reinstated Ministry of Labour, although they didn’t say that this new department should replace the DWP.

    Britain’s opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn listens during a Communication Workers Union (CWU) meeting in London, Britain August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall – RTSKKBH

    Similar in spirit

    Other ideas are clearly in step with Mr Corbyn’s thinking, although Mr Smith has laid out more detailed plans…”

  44. Good afternoon all from a warm sunny breezy central London.

    Interesting read AW.

    I know it’s all hypothetical scenarios but it does show the mess Labour are in. If Labour do split going into the 2020 election then I think UKIP will pick up some seats in the north east of England and the Tories may well pick up some soft Labour seats in and around London. The Lib/Dem’s may even get in on the feeding frenzy and pick up some scraps Labour hold in the South and south west.

    It’s not looking good that’s for sure.

    “I think UKIP will pick up some seats in the north east of England ”

    Are you sure? UKiP appear to be having a bigger meltdown than Labour at the moment.

    “Running those polls through Electoral Calculus leaves Labour relatively intact – on 180-odd seats, while the splitters would get zero”

    I have to admit I love your attempt at a gloss over….Mind you on those figures Labour would only be 142 seats short of an overall majority.

  47. @Carfrew Like I said before Owen Smith has had a damascene conversion to socialism. Owen Smith is so busy trying to copy that he forgets to pay attention to details as this tweet from Eoin demonstrates.

    Éoin @LabourEoin
    15th Sept 2015 – Corbyn promises £10 p/h wage
    9th June 2015 – Tories promise £9 p/h wage
    3rd Aug 2016 – Owen Smith promises £8.25 p/h wage

  48. @ Colin

    If I remember correctly one broadcast debate is on BBC and one is Guardian, but all the five will be on the LP’s website.

    The contest is certainly not on ideology – Smith is doing his best to show his left credentials (he reminds me to Kinnock of the late 1970s in a way). It is not on personality (although it may come to that – essentially if the members trust Smith). It is about Corbyn or not Corbyn.

    If one thought that AC (not our AC :-))was the master of spinning during the Blair years, it is nothing compared to what is coming out from the LP.

  49. LIZH

    “Are you sure? UKiP appear to be having a bigger meltdown than Labour at the moment”

    I know they are going through some leadership shenanigans currently (who cried Wolf?) oops no pun intended but they only have one MP so I don’t think a parliamentary split in UKIP will be quite as potent as it would be for Labour.

    I’m sure UKIP will have sorted themselves out by 2020 where as I can’t be so sure Labour will have , that’s what I’m basing my rational on but just as AW says in his article, everything needs to be taken with a 1000 caveats so should any speculation on how many Labour seats will fall to other parties.

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