One year of Keir: how has Starmer done leading Labour?

Matthew SmithLead data journalist
April 03, 2021, 10:28 AM UTC

A Labour government still looks a long way off

With Keir Starmer celebrating his first year of Labour leader on 4 April, we’ve taken a look at the Labour leader’s performance over the last 12 months.

Favourability

For most of his first year, Keir Starmer’s favourability ratings have been both positive and superior to those of his Conservative counterpart Boris Johnson. Things started to take a turn for the worse in late January, however, with Starmer’s reputation going into rapid decline.

As of 1 April, Starmer’s net favourability score stands at -11, his second worst showing to date, although this does represent an improvement from the nadir of -18 in early March. Currently 35% of Britons have a favourable view of the Labour leader, compared to 46% who have a positive view. One in five (19%) still don’t hold an opinion of Starmer.

Worse still for Labour, Boris Johnson’s reputation is being rebuilt. He overtook Starmer in the favourability ratings in early March, with a less-bad score of -11, and has since recovered to -1.

Among Labour voters, Starmer maintains a positive favourability score, at +26. Nevertheless, this too represents a decline from his heyday in 2020, with Starmer peaking at +59 among his own party’s voters in June.

Britons are split on how well Starmer has been doing as leader

While Starmer might not be particularly popular, do Britons at least thing he has been doing his job well? Opinion in this regard is mixed.

A separate YouGov study conducted for The Times finds that one in five (21%) think he has been a good or a great leader, while a further third (36%) say he has been an average one. A quarter think that has been a poor or terrible leader (26%).

Labour voters assess their party’s leader somewhat more positively. One in three (34%) think he has been good or great, while an identical proportion consider him bang average. One in five say he has been poor or terrible.

Could anyone else have done better?

Starmer took office at an unprecedented time. It’s hard enough for oppositions to catch the media’s attention during normal times, but the coronavirus crisis has pulled focus and left the Labour leader with one arm tied behind his back.

Our results show that Britons think that Starmer has done the best he could with a bad hand. Four in ten (41%) said of the party leader: “he has made mistakes, but has done as well as he reasonably could have done given the circumstances”.

This is the most common view among all main voting groups, including 45% of Labour voters.

A further one in five (20%) believe Starmer “has done a bad job and made crucial mistakes that could have been avoided”, outnumbering the 13% who said “he has done a good job, making the right decisions to hold the government to account and make the party more electable”.

Labour voters are more likely to take the positive view than the negative, however, with 23% thinking Starmer has done a good job on his own terms, versus 16% who think he has done an actively bad job.

Personal attributes

Recent months have also taken their toll on people’s views of Starmer as a person. Currently Starmer is seen more negatively than positively when it comes to being a strong leader (-14), decisive (-14), trustworthy (-9), and likeable (-5). In all four cases, the transition between overall positive to overall negative took place since late January.

The only attribute Starmer still does well on is competence. Currently 35% of Britons see the Labour leader as competent, compared to 28% who see him as incompetent, giving a net score of +7. Even this represents a marked decline from +21 in late January.

Poor as many of these scores are, Starmer does still lead Johnson on competence, trustworthiness and particularly decisiveness.

Making Labour a prospective government

Starmer is currently failing in his task of making himself and his party look like a plausible alternative to Boris Johnson and the Conservatives.

Fully half of Britons (52%) say they don’t see Starmer as a prime minister in waiting – twice as many as can envisage him walking through the door of Number 10. This represents a substantial decline since last year – until November Britons tended to think that Starmer did seem like a potential PM.

When compared directly against Boris Johnson for the top job, the Labour leader comes off worse. Having led the race from August to February, Starmer currently finds himself ten points behind Johnson on who Britons think would make the better leader, at 37% to 27%.

While Labour continue to be seen as the party better place to manage areas they are traditionally associated with – the NHS, unemployment, education, housing – they still trail far behind on the crucial category: the economy. Currently 19% of people see the party as the best potential custodians of the nation’s finances, barely changed from the 16% who thought so at the start of Starmer’s tenure, and still half the number who say so of the Conservatives (40%).

See the full results here