Three years on, what do Britons make of Keir Starmer’s time as Labour leader?

Frazer KnowlesPolitical Researcher
April 04, 2023, 8:11 AM GMT+0

Despite presiding over a commanding lead in the polls, Starmer’s personal ratings remain underwhelming, showing only modest improvement

Following a disappointing 2021 for the Labour leader, which saw another brick in the Red Wall fall to the Tories at the Hartlepool by-election, 2022 became the year in which the fortunes of Keir Starmer’s Labour party took a turn for the better. In the midst of the chaos surrounding Liz Truss’s autumn budget and subsequent resignation, Labour opened up a sizeable gap in the polls, which despite a recent tightening, has more or less remained ever since.

As three years pass since Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party and with the next general election now just over a year away, how do Britons rate Starmer’s time as Labour leader so far?

Starmer’s three years at the helm sparks little enthusiasm among Britons

With headline voting intention polls consistently showing Labour leads of 20 points or more, one may have expected this to reflect well on the leadership ratings of Starmer. However, new YouGov data shows that this is not the case.

Only one in five Britons consider Starmer to have been a “great” (2%) or “good” (20%) leader of the party. This is lower than the 28% who believe he has been “bad” or “terrible”, although the most common response is that he has simply been “average”.

Nevertheless, this does represent an improvement from September 2021, when just 10% of Britons considered Starmer a great or good leader, and 39% said he was a poor or terrible one.

The views of Labour voters are somewhat more positive – 37% see Starmer as doing a great or good job as leader, with only 16% taking the negative view. A further third (37%) see Starmer as an average leader.

The ratings among this group have also shown improvement from September 2021, at which point only 20% Labour voters considered Starmer to have been a “great” or “good” leader compared to 27% who believe he had been “poor” or “terrible”.

A similar story plays out in terms of how far Starmer has changed the Labour party. The most common response among the public is that he has not made any real difference to the party (41%). However, this is down 10 points since September 2021, with the proportion thinking he has changed the party for the better increasing over the same time period from 20% to 33%. The number who think he has changed the party for the worse remains unchanged, at 10%.

Starmer’s messaging showing signs of cutting through, but he still has a long way to go

Despite less than stellar ratings of his leadership so far, Starmer can draw hope from the fact that the messages he wishes to convey to the public are beginning to gain some traction.

A third (34%) of Britons now believe he has done well at convincing people that Labour can be trusted with the economy (+17 from September 2021) whilst 31% believe he has done a good job at setting out a clear vision for Labour (+16).

Nevertheless, the public still tend to think that Starmer has done a bad job setting out Labour’s vision (47%) and building trust in the party’s economic competence (44%).

Starmer’s blocking of Corbyn receives general support but divides opinion among Labour voters

Last Tuesday, a motion brought forward by Keir Starmer to ban Jeremy Corbyn from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election was passed by the National Executive Committee. The motion stated that Labour’s chances of winning the next election would be “significantly diminished” if Corbyn was to stand.

This line of reasoning appears to be backed up by public opinion, with the majority of the public (56%) believing that Corbyn is an electoral liability to the Labour Party compared to 14% who believe he is an electoral asset. This view is also shared among 2019 Labour voters, of whom 44% view Corbyn as an electoral liability compared to a quarter (27%) who think he is an asset.

Despite this, the decision to formally block Corbyn from standing at the next election proves to be more divisive. Whilst the public as a whole believe it was the right to decision to block Corbyn by 48% to 27%, Labour voters are largely split, with 36% believing it was the right decision compared to 41% who believe it was the wrong decision. This will be a concern for Starmer who will be keen to avoid any infighting and present a united front going into the next general election.

See the 2023 results here and the 2021 results here

Photo: Getty

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