Would a Labour government have handled the COVID-19 pandemic any better?

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
March 23, 2021, 8:49 AM UTC

Britons tend to think hypothetical governments headed by Keir Starmer or Jeremy Corbyn would not have done better than Boris Johnson in handling the pandemic

The Labour party is calling for a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, but do Britons think a Labour government could have handled the outbreak any better?

Britons are doubtful. Only 8% of people think that more people would have been vaccinated under a Starmer- or Corbyn-led government. Some 48% say that a Starmer-led government would have resulted in around the same number of people being vaccinated, and 23% think he would have vaccinated fewer people. Around a sixth of Labour voters (17%) think both Starmer and Corbyn governments could have done better at vaccinating more people.

Elsewhere people are split 31% to 36% on whether a Corbyn government would have been able to vaccinate the same number of people or fewer respectively – including 15% of Labour voters who think a Corbyn leadership would have resulted in fewer vaccinations overall, and 7% who say Starmer would have vaccinated fewer Britons.

Would Labour have done better at stopping the spread of COVID-19?

Around a fifth of people of people (23%) say that a Labour government led by Starmer would have been better handling transmission of COVID-19 however 43% say they would have done no better or worse than the current government, and 14% think more people would be catching the virus if Starmer was in power.

A third of Britons (33%) think a Corbyn government would have meant higher numbers of people catching COVID-19 – with only 14% saying Corbyn could have reduced transmission and 28% thinking his handling would resulted in about the same result as the current government’s efforts.

Among Labour voters, while over half think both Labour leaders could have done just as well if not better than the government at handling transmission of the virus, confidence tends to resides more with a Starmer leadership than a Corbyn one. Half (51%) think the incumbent Labour leader would have kept COVID-19 transmission lower, compared to 37% who think the same of his predecessor – with one in nine Labour voters (11%) saying transmission of the virus would have been higher under Corbyn. 

Would Labour have done better on managing the economic impact of COVID-19?

While the public tended to think a Starmer government could have managed the transmission of COVID-19 just as well as the Conservatives, their faith in the opposition leader to protect the economy is less certain.

Britons are split 35% to 35% on whether Starmer’s handling would have resulted in an equally bad or worse economic situation and only 11% think the economy would be in a better place now were the current Labour leader in charge. Three quarters of Labour voters (76%) on the other hand think Starmer’s government could have managed the economy just as well or better than the Conservatives.

However, 50% of people – including 25% of Labour voters – say a Corbyn premiership would have meant an even worse off economy for Britain. Even among Labour voters, only one in five Labour voters think Corbyn’s leadership would have resulted in a better-looking economy, dropping to less than one in ten of the general public (7%) who agree he would have left the public purse in better shape.

Would Labour have done better on Lockdown rules?

Another perceived difference between possible Starmer and Corbyn governments comes in the strictness of lockdown rules. For Starmer, 68% of people think his leadership would have meant restrictions the same as they are now or stricter. Among Labour voters, this rises to 84%, with only 4% of party supporters thinking Starmer would have more lax rules in place should he be prime minister compared to 11% thinking of the general public. 

By contrast, fewer people (40%) tend to think a Corbyn government would have imposed similar or more stringent rules, with three in ten of the general public (31%) thinking Corbyn’s rules would have been less strict. In the eyes of six in ten Labour voters (60%), Corbyn’s rules and restrictions would have equalled or surpassed those currently in place, while some 17% say he would have had a less strict clamp down on public freedoms.

See full results here