Labour’s poll rating will improve by this time next year, Diane Abbott has said, claiming after two disastrous byelections that infighting in the party had been largely to blame for its electoral woes.
“We’ve gone through a very difficult year, as you know, and it was always going to take time to pull round from that,” the shadow home secretary and one of Jeremy Corbyn’s key allies told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
This week’s Sleaford byelection, in which Labour finished fourth with just 10% of the vote, and the byelection in Richmond the week before, where the party lost its deposit as the Liberal Democrats took Zac Goldsmith’s seat, were “disappointing”, Abbott conceded. “But we are coming together now,” she said. “As we come together, as you hear less noises off, I believe we can close the polling gap.”
Abbott said the success of Corbyn’s leadership could be gauged by the rush of new members of the party. “I would say to you that reports of the Labour party’s demise are much exaggerated,” she said. “We are the largest social democratic party in Europe. And that huge surge in membership is due to the current leadership.”
Theresa May’s government would be “consumed” by splits over Europe, Abbott said, and Labour’s policy on Brexit was well placed to capitalise on this.
Corbyn’s strategy on Brexit, to say the party will support the triggering of article 50 while seeking to pressure the government over strategy, has drawn criticism from MPs.
On Friday, after the Sleaford result, the Croydon North MP, Steve Reed, said: “Labour risks becoming the party of the 0% if we manage to upset both remainers and leavers by equivocating our position.”
Abbott denied the position was confused, saying Labour supported the “best possible negotiated deal” for Brexit. “We are in favour of first of all respecting the votes of 17 million people that voted for Brexit,” she said. “It would be very damaging for democracy if we dismissed those voters in the way the Lib Dems are.”
She added: “What we have to do, as a national party, is not just speak for the 48%, not just speak for the 52%, but bring the country together, and hold the Tories to account.”
Abbott said poor opinion polls for Corbyn and the party would soon change. “I’m confident we’re going to close the gap in the coming 12 months,” she said. “We’ve had a pretty difficult 12 months, partly Jeremy’s enemies in the party, partly commentators, but we have the right policies and the right leader.”
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 11th December 2016 11.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010