The Owen Smith campaign believes it is leading among Scottish Labour supporters in its bid to unseat party leader Jeremy Corbyn, according to an internal memo seen by Scotland on Sunday.
In an email to Labour MSPs, the campaign says telephone canvassing by Smith’s supporters suggests he is ahead north of the border, and only trails the Labour leader by six points nationally.
Corbyn is widely assumed to be heading for a comfortable victory over his rival, who faces an uphill battle to convince a majority of the more than 180,000 new supporters who have registered with Labour in order to vote in the leadership contest.
A YouGov poll at the end of August had Corbyn 24 points ahead, including a 52 per cent lead among full Labour members.
However, the Smith campaign rejected the findings in its update to MSPs, claiming its own internal surveys put their candidate on 39.85 per cent compared with Corbyn’s 45.79 per cent, with 14.37 per cent still to make up their minds.
Crucially, the Smith campaign say a third of voters in the Labour leadership contest have yet to return their postal ballots, leaving the door open for an upset.
“The next few weeks will be absolutely critical, particularly in Scotland, where our data shows Owen is ahead,” the email states. “Our own phone bank data suggests the race is much closer and your continued efforts alongside thousands of volunteers across the country is vital.”
The leadership race has created new tensions between Scottish Labour and the UK party leadership in London. Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale has declared her support for Smith, and this week disavowed comments by the Labour leader’s spokesman suggesting Corbyn was willing to see the UK come out of the European single market as part of its Brexit settlement.
In a hint of how the tortured debate over the future of Labour might become, the memo suggests Smith is performing far better among full Labour members than with registered supporters who have paid £25 to take part in the ballot.
The scale of the influx into Labour has prompted allegations of entryism by far-left activists and Greens seeking to secure Corbyn’s position. A narrow defeat for Smith in which is he supported by a majority of full members could allow him to claim he has the support of Labour’s core vote. The party is as much as 16 points behind the Tories in polls of voting intention, with Prime Minister Theresa May enjoying a large lead over Corbyn in approval ratings, even among Labour supporters.
Last week a former shadow cabinet source was quoted claiming that 10,000 “Corbynistas” a week were being expelled by the Labour party ahead of the close of the leadership ballot on 21 September.
“Owen might win, narrowly, but I think he’ll do it,” the ex-frontbencher told the Express. “We’re working on it. 10,000 a week at the moment.”
A Scottish Labour source backing Corbyn dismissed the figures put forward by the Smith campaign as “nonsense”. The Jeremy for Labour campaign dismissed what it called “unproven claims” and pointed to Corbyn’s 8 point lead among Scottish Labour members in the YouGov poll.
Yesterday Owen, who resigned as shadow work and pensions secretary in a mass rebellion by Labour MPs against Corbyn’s leadership, warned that Labour was “on the brink of disappearing as a serious party”.
Owen said in a newspaper interview: “At the moment two million Labour voters say they are considering voting for Theresa May. It comes down to winning and being a party that can win. Jeremy can’t do that.”