Labour could fall to below 10% in the polls if any of Jeremy Corbyn’s vocal critics try to replace him because most of the party’s support is down to his leadership, according to Diane Abbott.
The shadow home secretary estimated that Corbyn was responsible for 18-20 percentage points of the support enjoyed by Labour, which is at its lowest level since the 2015 election and joint equal to its lowest performance in ICM polls going back to 1983.
Abbott hit out against any possible attempt to oust Corbyn, although there is little evidence that Labour MPs are plotting another attempt to get rid of their leader, after last year’s failed bid to replace him with Owen Smith.
The Labour leader’s parliamentary critics have lately been biding their time in the hope that Corbyn may decide to go of his own accord or as a result of pressure from his own supporters if the party’s polling drops any further.
However, senior allies of Corbyn fear there could be a renewed effort by Labour rebels to challenge him for the leadership if the party’s local election results are very poor, with some estimates suggesting dozens of council seats could be lost.
Abbott used a LabourList article to warn against any such attempt, saying the party could hit a single-digit figure in the polls if the leader was replaced by “any one of his vocal critics”.
The shadow home secretary, a longtime supporter of the Labour leader, also praised Corbyn’s “brave and correct” opposition to US missile strikes on Syria and criticised the Tories, rightwing newspapers and supporters of “business-as-usual” politics.
“One of their current arguments is that Labour’s difficulties in the polls are all attributable to him and that if only we had a new leader, almost any leader, then this would resolve our problems. This is completely untrue,” Abbott said.
“We can go further. Compared to all his critics, Jeremy Corbyn is worth about 18-20 percentage points to Labour’s vote. Without him, and led by any one of his vocal critics, we could easily be languishing in single digits in polls.”
Abbott said Corbyn was the party’s best hope for delivering a clear alternative to the Conservatives as they pursue a hard Brexit. She also pointed to the fate of the Dutch Labour party, which got less than 6%, and François Hollande’s Socialist party which is also polling in single digits.
“In both cases, the Dutch Labour party and the French Socialist party had talked about opposing austerity but then implemented it,” she said. “Trying to shore up their electoral base they turned to anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric and policies. France under Hollande also repeatedly intervened militarily in Africa.
“No doubt there are somewhere Dutch and French versions of Peter Mandelson saying that these policies were necessary, or they were popular or they showed firm leadership. They were none of the above. They were indefensible and they proved electorally disastrous. Yet these are precisely the policies that Corbyn’s critics would have him adopt, and would implement themselves if they managed to oust him. They would prove equally disastrous.”
Corbyn has blamed the party’s poll performance on the media’s failure to cover policy issues and the decision of Labour MPs to mount a leadership challenge last year, which exposed party divisions.
Asked last week why opinion polls show support for the Conservatives is so much higher than for Labour, Corbyn said: “Too often our media do not deal with the issues people face day to day. There are more than a million people waiting for social care in this country and there are many people stuck in hospital who frankly shouldn’t be in hospital but can’t leave.
“I’m not expecting or wanting an easy ride from the media. I don’t care about that. But what I do care about is an obsession by so many to ignore the reality of homelessness, of social care ... It simply doesn’t have to be the case in modern Britain.
“So these elections give us an opportunity, and I hope all newspapers and radio and TV will at least get involved in the serious debate about health, social care, schools, housing – because at the end of the day if people grow up in poverty they tend to underachieve at school, and if they underachieve at school they tend to lead less fulfilling lives. If they lead less fulfilling lives, we all lose.”
Later, LBC radio also pressed Corbyn on whether he was the right person to deliver a campaigning Labour party and what would be a success for him on 4 May.
“We are campaigning to win these elections. I am proud to lead this party and I was elected to lead this party and that’s the duty I’m fulfilling. We’ll carry on doing that. Thank you very much.”