Keir Starmer has handled Labour’s response on Gaza badly, say public and Labour voters

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
March 01, 2024, 1:42 PM GMT+0

The public say the same of Rishi Sunak, although Tory voters tend to be supportive

George Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale by-election is prompting the commentariat to ask what the implications are for Labour.

The view of YouGov’s Patrick English (which is also held by other pollsters) is that the very unusual nature of the by-election – with Labour having disavowed their candidate and it being unclear how many seats Galloway’s Workers Party could ever stand for nationally, among other factors – means it is impossible to read across from it.

However, it is clear that Keir Starmer’s stance on the Gaza conflict has been unpopular among many Labour supporters. The public’s desire is for a ceasefire in Gaza, with a YouGov poll in mid-February showing that 66% of Britons want Israel to stop and call a ceasefire – rising to 83% among 2019 Labour voters.

Now a new YouGov survey, conducted on 29 February-1 March, with the vast majority of responses having been gathered prior to the results of the by-election becoming known, shows that only 14% of Britons say Keir Starmer has handled Labour’s response well, down four points from late October.

By contrast, 52% say he has handled it badly – up ten points. One in three are unsure (33%).

Those who voted for Labour in 2019 are slightly more likely to say that Starmer has handled the issue well, but this still only stands at 22%. Most (54%) say he has handled it poorly.

Starmer is seen as having managed the issue poorly by those on all sides of the conflict: 67% of those who sympathise primarily with the Palestinians say so, as do 69% of those who sympathise most with the Israelis, and 53% of those who sympathise with both sides equally.

This is in contrast to Rishi Sunak, who is at least seen as handling the issue well by those who are more pro-Israel (53%), as well as by 2019 Tories (40%, compared to 34% who say he has done badly).

Nevertheless, the public overall likewise think Sunak has done a poor job on the topic, with 52% saying so compared to 22% who believe he has done well.

Has Starmer been too pro-Israel or too pro-Palestine?

Separate recent findings for The Times showed that 20% of Britons think Starmer has been too pro-Israel, compared to 9% who say he has been too pro-Palestine, and 20% that he has got the balance about right.

Among current Labour voters, 27% said he has been too pro-Israel, while 31% thought that he has got it about right.

Whether Gaza is going to be a salient issue at the forthcoming general election is another matter. The party’s stance doesn’t seem to have impacted their electoral prospects: prior to the onset of hostilities on 7 October, Labour’s voting intention share was 45% - in our latest poll it is 46%.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty