Little more than a month ago you could get odds of 100-1 on Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour leadership election. Now he's the odds-on favourite, and Andy Burnham, his nearest rival, is at 7-2 – a comparative long shot.
Senior Labour figures are warning party members that a vote for Corbyn could hand the Conservatives the next general election and send Labour back into the wilderness, yet polls and bookies now agree that he is most likely to emerge as leader of the opposition.
Can Corbyn win? The latest Labour leadership odds:
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Why should we listen to the bookmakers?
"The power of the betting markets," says the Daily Telegraph, is to assimilate the collective knowledge and wisdom of those willing to back their judgment with money." In an article written before the general election, it cited a 1985 Welsh by-election in which the polls showed an 18-point lead for Labour, while bookies installed the Liberal as the odds-on favourite. The Liberal candidate did indeed prevail. And in May, the bookies were much closer to the eventual result than the pollsters – most had Cameron as the clear favourite to stay on as PM for the majority of the campaign, even as the polls favoured Miliband.
What do the polls say?
The last two public polls, published by YouGov, suggest that Jeremy Corbyn has a clear and increasing lead. The most recent, published on Tuesday in The Times, gave him a first round tally of 53 per cent of the vote, a ten-point gain on his previous position and 32 points ahead of Andy Burnham, on 21 per cent. Yvette Cooper was on 18 per cent and Liz Kendall on 8 per cent. Significantly, that would give Corbyn victory in the first round. If it goes to a second round, the outcome becomes more unpredictable as eliminated candidates' second preferences come into play.
Can the polls be trusted?
In the run-up to the general election, polls were consistently wrong. And, says The Guardian, "trying to predict the outcome of an internal party election through polling is a much more tricky" than surveying the electorate as a whole. Nevertheless, political analysts are increasingly confident in the Labour leadership election polling, not least because the gap is so large, and is growing – unlike at the closely fought general election. Other commentators suggest that this time around the polls match the mood at rallies, debates and on social media, in a way that they didn't in May. "Twitter and rally turnout are only really indicative of activist opinion, notes The Guardian. "But party leadership contests, unlike general elections, are decided by activist opinion, which is yet another reason why the YouGov findings seem highly credible."
But what if they're wrong?
It's certainly a possibility, and Atul Hatwal of Labour Uncut is convinced that YouGov is in line for another humiliation – and that Labour members are using pollsters to send a message, rather than expressing their true voting intentions. "After a crushing, demoralising general election defeat for the party," he writes, "what better way for frustrated members and supporters to flick the bird at the leadership than to tell pollsters and canvassers they are backing Corbyn?"
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