Jeremy Corbyn remains “absolutely toxic” to voters on the doorsteps and is a key factor in Labour’s floundering poll ratings, according to one of the party’s most senior Scottish MPs.
But Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray has welcomed the leadership’s commitment to a fresh “confirmatory” referendum on Brexit and insists this is now “within touching” distance in the Commons.
In contrast, Corbyn’s closest political ally in Scotland has insisted that he remains in a strong position to deliver a Labour victory in the widely expected election before the end of the year.
Labour gathered for its annual UK conference in Brighton yesterday with Brexit chaos continuing to engulf the country.
But despite widespread controversy over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and the ensuing Supreme Court challenge, the polls make grim reading for Corbyn. Labour had fallen down to third place on 21 per cent, two points behind the Liberal Democrats and a full 11 points off the Tories, YouGov found last week. It also faces the prospect of a near wipeout in Scotland where the SNP is on course to grab more than 50 of the country’s 59 seats.
“The Labour leadership have to at least try to understand and acknowledge that you’re ten points behind the worst Tory Government in history led by Boris Johnson who is a liar,” said Murray. “They have to ask themselves why they are not 20 points ahead.
“One problem has been ambiguity over Brexit, although now we at least have the confirmatory vote.
“The other is Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity in the country. His net approval ratings are not just dismal and the worst of all party leaders, but are getting worse.
“People might say I’m being disloyal, but it’s so clear when knocking on the doors, he’s absolutely toxic.
“The country needs a Labour government, and I’m saying to people on the doorsteps that this is bigger than one person.”
But Lothians MSP Neil Findlay, who led both of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns in Scotland, believes a combination of the Scottish Government’s recent woes over issues such as the Royal Sick Children’s hospital in Edinburgh will play into Labour’s hands in an election campaign.
Findlay said the party’s by-election victory in the North Lanarkshire this week marked an “excellent result” for Labour in a key battleground area.
“It bodes well for the coming general election campaign,” he said.
“The Tory Government is in chaos and in Scotland the SNP have had a horrendous week with the shambles of the Sick Kids and the Queen Elizabeth hospital, the scrapping of the Named Person scheme and the dumping of a proposed landfill ban by 2021.
“Labour is therefore in a good position to put forward another positive and progressive manifesto with a vision of a Scotland in the UK that is full of hope for a better future. This is central to what Jeremy Corbyn has always spoken about and I am certain will be the key driving force behind the next manifesto.”
Senior Labour election strategists also believe that Corbyn’s strength on the campaign trail will see support surge as proved to be the case in 2017, while election rules ensuring a balanced approach to broadcasting coverage are also viewed as something which could work in the party’s favour.
Membership of the party in Scotland has also been rising in recent weeks as the prospect of an election nears.
Murray was the party’s sole Scottish Labour MP between 2015 and 2017, the only one to survive the SNP landslide of four years ago.
He has been a consistent campaigner for a Peoples’ Vote on Brexit and an open critic of the leadership’s ambiguous position on EU departure. Labour has now committed itself to a second referendum and Murray says there is a strong prospect of this being staged before an election happens. This scenario would see the Prime Minister bring an amended deal back to Parliament which the Commons, now effectively under opposition control, would only endorse after it was put to the people. This would require support from a majority of at least 321 MPs
Murray said: “We would be saying we will allow that deal to go through, if there is a confirmatory vote on this with an option to Remain.
“Brexit has to be resolved before a general election or it will just become a referendum on Brexit.
“The bottom line is that we need the magic number of 321 MPs. With every Conservative backbencher that Boris Johnson throws out the Conservative party there’s another in the column for a Peoples’ Vote. We already had about 290 at the last indicative votes on this, so I think we’re within touching distance of that majority.”
And although Corbyn has indicated that he may not take a position in a referendum, Murray says he is “pretty pleased” with the party’s position.
“Harold Wilson allowed Labour to do what they wanted in the 1970s. I’m very confident that the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters will be campaigning for Remain.
“The main thing is that the confirmatory vote will be going back to the public.”