Were Labour ahead before the '#ChickenCoup'?
For a while now, a hashtag has been bouncing around Twitter. It is, of course, #ChickenCoup. Since Hilary Benn’s midnight-sacking and the litany of shadow cabinet resignations that followed, a certain tranche of the internet has been in uproar. Almost always part of the Corbyn-supporting left, they have made much of the – alleged – attempted coup in which the Parliamentary Labour Party tried to oust their leader by resigning en-masse. Alas, when Jeremy Corbyn refused to resign, the sigh of relief turned into jeering revenge, and the whole episode was labelled the ‘chicken coup’.
Many of the same Corbyn supporters, moreover, have heaped blame for the Labour Party’s dire polling results on these same ‘plotters’. Indeed, it has become a trope to inform others on Twitter that Labour was winning in the polls before the coup.
But is it true?
No. Not in any meaningful sense, anyway.
Take a look at the graph above, showing headline voting intentions since the last general election. From September – when Corbyn took office as Leader of the Opposition – until the start of March, the Tories had a clear run of consistent polling leads. Then, on 16th March, George Osborne delivered his Budget. Widely seen as the most unfair Budget since his ‘omnishambles’ budget of 2012, it resulted in the Tory lead being slashed. In the period following the Budget, Labour managed to chalk up three wins in YouGov polls between 17th March and 26th April, one of which was a one-point lead, and the latter two of which were both three-point leads. But that was it. In fact, those three poll leads were the only ones Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party had achieved since their leader’s election in September. On top of that, they weren’t big enough leads to indicate any real win. Below is the Polling Digest 4-poll rolling average, designed to give a less erratic view of public opinion while not ignoring real trends.
In that post-Budget month, although Labour managed to get a few wins, they weren’t large enough or numerous enough to indicate any true lead. Our rolling average shows that while Labour do come close to the Tories in this period, they never actually overtake; as a result, it gives the Tories a consistent polling lead since the general election. And crucially, that period occurred quite some time before Hilary Benn’s resignation – the alleged spark for the ‘coup’.
So no, Labour weren’t actually winning in the polls immediately prior to the #ChickenCoup. But there is one element of that narrative which isn’t so far from untrue; there is some evidence that the 63 shadow cabinet resignations and the ensuing crisis which engulfed the Labour Party did hurt it in the polls. Since the end of June, the Tories increased their lead considerably, and even before it became clear that Theresa May would become Prime Minister, they had a clear eight-point lead. It seems, therefore, that even when controlling for the ‘honeymoon’ effect of a new leader, the Labour Party were hurt by the confidence crisis it had in Westminster.
It should be obvious that a mass resignation like the one we saw in the Labour Party would result in a serious bit of trouble in the polls, and those who partook in it must, as the evidence suggests, take responsibility for at least some of unpopularity of their party. What is even more obvious, however, is that the Labour Party were not ahead in the polls immediately prior to the leadership crisis.