Jo Swinson MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats, asserted on the Today programme that the Labour leader had spent two weeks on holiday during the 2016 EU referendum. This claim is false— exaggerating the break that Jeremy Corbyn MP took.

During the leadership contest, Ms Swinson also asserted that “we are only in this mess because Jeremy Corbyn went missing in action in the 2016 campaign and went on holiday”. This claim is dubious, given survey evidence.

A false claim that Mr Corbyn had made 123 media appearances resurfaced. This statement misunderstands a study on media coverage.

How long was the holiday?

Let’s remember in the last referendum he went on holiday for two weeks in the middle of it.

On 8th May 2016, an article in The Times stated that the Labour leader was intending to take “almost a week off” during the campaign.

We can look at media appearances by Jeremy Corbyn MP to find an upper bound for this holiday.

On 27th May, The Guardian interviewed the Labour leader about the UK’s membership of the European Union, talking about Labour’s campaign and social media presence.

On 2nd June, the Financial Times reported a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, which criticised Treasury forecasts and made the case for a ‘social Europe’.

This holiday was at most five days. Claiming it was two weeks is a plain exaggeration.

The Cause of “This Mess”?

We’re in this situation because Jeremy Corbyn went missing in action in the 2016 campaign and went on holiday.

As has been repeatedly explained since the 2016 referendum, most people who voted for Labour in 2015 and voted in the EU referendum backed Remain. YouGov polling estimated the Remain share among 2015 Labour voters was 65%. Ipsos MORI estimated that figure was 64%.

In their mixed-mode panel, NatCen asked people which party they identify themselves with. Those who identified with Labour had an estimated Remain share of 64% (again, excluding non-voters). The British Social Attitudes survey in 2016 found a similar share of 63% among Labour identifiers.

The Leave vote was a broad coalition of economically-deprived voters opposed to immigration, affluent Euro-sceptics and older working-class voters. Kirby Swales of NatCen identifies four factors which were most likely to have ‘tipped the balance’:

  • lower turnout among those intending to vote Remain;
  • higher Leave support among those who did not vote in 2015;
  • economic arguments being less persuasive than those about sovereignty or immigration;
  • voters generally not following the ‘party line’.

On this basis, it is difficult to attribute the Leave victory in 2016 to some failure of the Labour leader, or perceive how exactly Mr Corbyn campaigning for five more days would have changed the outcome.

123 Media Appearances?

For instance, a Business Insider article claimed in September 2016 that:

May made just 29 media appearances between May 6 and June 22. That means Corbyn made over four times as many appearances. The difference isn’t marginal — it’s massive.

The confusion arises due to the term ‘media appearances’. This is not, as the BI article implies, a politician doing a media interview or something similar.

Instances in the media might be a better description. (Image: CRCC)

However, the CRCC report they are quoting is about media coverage. From the CRCC report:

This section examines which individuals, organisations and institutions received most media coverage.

The table shows how many selected media items featured that politician.

For instance, one interview can generate multiple articles. The Daily Mirror suggested in August 2016 that Mr Corbyn made at least 10 media appearances during the EU referendum. Major TV appearances were on a Sky News debate, The Agenda, the Andrew Marr Show (twice), Peston on Sunday, and The Last Leg.

Politicians and the public need to be accurate in their claims.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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