Keir Starmer: one year in, Labour leader's popularity has plunged

Pollsters say Hartlepool byelection is crucial, as ratings turn negative amid Tories’ Covid vaccine success

The first anniversary of Keir Starmer taking the reins of the Labour party comes at a very awkward moment considering his standing in the polls.

His approval ratings have tanked from record highs to his first negative ratings in the last few weeks. Last June, Ipsos Mori found Starmer enjoyed a rating of +31%, the joint highest for any leader of opposition since the polling company began tracking opposition leaders in the 1970s.

Starmer’s standing slipped to a still respectable score of +15% in October. But by March, only 33% were satisfied with the job Starmer was doing, compared with 42% who were dissatisfied, giving him a net score of -9%. Britain Elects also put Starmer in negative territory for the first time in March.

“He’s got to turn that round,” says Keiran Pedley, the director of politics at Ipsos Mori.

One of the most worrying aspects for Starmer was his rating among Labour supporters, Pedley said. “What has stood out for me is one in five Labour voters from 2019 say they are unfavourable towards Starmer and one in five think he is going to move the party in the wrong direction. They don’t think he is opposing the government strongly enough.”

This could be the start of a “José Mourinho factor” for Starmer, Pedley said. Like the football manager, Starmer managed to persuade Labour supporters that he was a winner, even if they had doubts about his tactics. But when Mourinho’s teams start losing, fans are very quick to lose heart. So if Labour were to do badly in next month’s local elections and the byelection in Hartlepool, party supporters and MPs could really turn on Starmer, Pedley said.

graphic

“I’d be surprised if he faced a leadership challenge, because the threshold for that is high, but if they lost Hartlepool, that could be quite a big symbol,” he added.

James Johnson, a former Downing Street pollster who worked under Theresa May, found that voters were unsure about Starmer. His firm, JL Partners, found 37% agreed the reason they would not vote Labour was that it was unclear what Starmer stood for.

Pedley has noticed a similar trend. He said: “People say they don’t know enough about him, and there may be a sense he sits on the fence. It is fair to say there is no obvious Starmerism.”

But this is not necessarily harmful to Starmer. Pedley pointed out that people knew what Corbyn stood for and he suffered record lows in approval ratings. “Even now Starmer’s ratings are better than Corbyn was getting.”

So while the polling shows the “honeymoon is over” for Starmer, it is too early to write him off, according to Pedley.

The success of the vaccine programme makes this a particularly challenging time for a leader of the opposition. Even 85% of Labour voters are satisfied with the vaccine programme, according to Ipsos Mori. Pedley said: “The external environment Starmer is operating under is quite unique and likely to change – governments don’t have positive headlines for ever, so maybe this is just a blip.”

Starmer could draw comfort from the example of David Cameron. A year after being elected Tory leader, Cameron had an approval rating of -5%, but became prime minister four years later. Pedley said: “A year in, and it is clear that Starmer has got challenges, and you can’t just dismiss these because of the success of the vaccine programme.

“But the future is still very much up for grabs. We don’t know what the mood music around the government is going to be six months from now, never mind two or three years.”

Contributor

Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Keir Starmer to launch fightback with Labour policy blitz
Leader to begin setting out key planks of a future Labour government after concerns over direction

Jessica Elgot and Heather Stewart

12, Feb, 2021 @2:20 PM

Article image
Gordon Brown backs Keir Starmer for Labour leader
Former PM says candidate has the expertise and eloquence to lead party back into power

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

05, Mar, 2020 @12:22 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer poised to be announced new Labour leader
Allies say scale of anticipated win will determine extent to which he can transform party

Rajeev Syal

03, Apr, 2020 @2:32 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer leads the Labour race after unspectacular campaign
Lack of excitement in leadership tussle shows party is in a battle for relevance

Dan Sabbagh

23, Feb, 2020 @4:09 PM

Article image
Labour leadership: Keir Starmer wins backing of second trade union
Shadow Brexit secretary assured of place on final ballot after nomination by Usdaw

Rajeev Syal

20, Jan, 2020 @7:25 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer gives Lisa Nandy foreign brief on new Labour frontbench
New leader brings in one former rival for key post but no role yet for Rebecca Long-Bailey

Peter Walker

05, Apr, 2020 @4:19 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer: Labour should argue for return of free movement
Leadership frontrunner says party has to make the case for benefits of migration

Heather Stewart Political editor

31, Jan, 2020 @1:24 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer campaign denies hacking claim in Labour leadership row
Team say inquiry only began after it raised concerns about data use of rival Rebecca Long-Bailey

Peter Walker Political correspondent

09, Feb, 2020 @1:51 PM

Article image
Labour leadership race: is 'comfort blanket' Keir Starmer too safe?
Brexit stance will also prove controversial as candidates begin jockeying for position

Heather Stewart Political editor

03, Jan, 2020 @7:04 PM

Article image
Why is Keir Starmer trying to rewrite Labour leadership rules?
Starmer wants a return to an electoral college for leadership elections and a new policymaking process

Jessica Elgot

22, Sep, 2021 @11:54 AM