Eight things YouGov polling reveals about Labour members

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
April 15, 2021, 10:06 AM UTC

Both Labour and Keir Starmer’s ratings have fallen significantly after often outperforming the Conservative Party last year. But what’s the sentiment among Labour’s members?

Keir Starmer and the Labour Party are facing several challenges. Public opinion is souring, discontent within the party is growing, and some critics say no one knows what Labour stands for.

It’s easy to get the impression that the new leader is too centrist for the left-wingers and too left-wing for the centrists. But it’s not quite that simple, a YouGov survey of 1,073 Labour members shows.

Labour members tend to see themselves as more left-wing than Starmer and the party

YouGov data shows that while Keir Starmer is a more popular leader of the opposition than Jeremy Corbyn among the party’s current members, many consider themselves further to the left.

Half say Starmer (50%) and the Labour Party (52%) are slightly left of centre, while only three in ten (29%) put themselves in this category.

Approaching half (46%) say they’re “fairly” left-wing, while 36% describe the party as such, and only 17% say this characterises Starmer’s views.

Meanwhile, just shy of a fifth (18%) claim to be “very” far to the left but barely any members believe this to be true of the party (2%) or its leader (1%).

A fifth (20%) instead describe Starmer as centrist, while few see Labour (6%) or their own stance (5%) as such.

But does it matter? Many Labour voters would be willing to compromise on values to win an election…

While Labour members regard themselves as further to the left than the party and Starmer, after 11 years in opposition and counting many say they would compromise on some of the party’s values if it meant having a better chance of winning the next election. But how much concession is too much?

Only 15% of Labour members are willing to agree to “large” compromises to the party’s values. A “moderate amount” is the most popular choice at 42%, while a relatively large group (29%) would only accept small giveaways. Another 11% are completely unwilling to compromise at all.

The figures show a significant shift from January 2020, when only three in ten members (29%) were open to moderate compromises, while two fifths (42%) said they could accept small concessions. But this more likely tied to a shifting membership base than changing opinions among existing members. Starmer’s takeover of the party prompted an exodus of 57,000 members

…and most prefer Starmer over Jeremy Corbyn 

Despite Starmer being regarded as a more centrist figure, this doesn’t mean many Labour members are longing for the days of Corbyn. A majority (61%) say the current leader is doing considerably better (39%) or at least a little bit better (22%) than his predecessor, while one in ten (10%) say his performance is about the same.

A third are less pleased, including 10% who say he’s doing a little worse and a fifth (19%) who say he’s much worse.

Members are most likely to have a favourable view of Starmer – but many are unsure about other senior Labour figures

Among senior Labour politicians, members are most likely to have a favourable view of Starmer himself (74% favourable vs 24% unfavourable). Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, who came third in the leadership contest, is a close follow up, with 69% having a positive opinion of her, while 16% dislike her.

Members generally have favourable opinions of other senior Labour politicians we asked about, but in each case, a high number don’t know what they think of the person, which could point to a greater issue around visibility. Three in ten members (28%) don’t know what they think of shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, while half are unsure about the Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford, and two thirds (67%) don’t have an opinion on shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds.

Labour’s current members have the most positive view of Gordon Brown among recent former leaders

Among current members, former prime minister Gordon Brown is the most well-liked figure, with 81% having a positive view of him while only 18% dislike him. Ed Miliband is similarly popular at 78% vs 21%, despite losing the election to David Cameron in 2015.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is a much more divisive figure at 55% favourable vs 43% unfavourable. This makes him as popular among the current membership as Tony Blair at 54% favourable vs 45% unfavourable.

A majority want the Labour Party to campaign for the UK re-joining the EU

While many Britons are probably happy to get a break from talking about Brexit, a majority of Labour members feel the last word hasn’t been said in the divorce. Some 59% would like the party to lobby for the UK joining the union again “at some point in the future”. Only 15% would not want to see this happen, while around a fifth (22%) say neither statement represents their view.

But many regard other issues as more pressing

While a majority would like to undo Brexit, Labour members are more likely to point to health (65%) and the economy (51%) as the most pressing issues facing the country. In comparison, equal proportions among the wider public (53%) put these issues as the most important.

Britain leaving the EU does also rank highly, with 46% of Labour members saying it’s among the top three biggest problems facing the UK, similar to the environment (44%). This is significantly higher than among all Britons, of whom only a quarter (26%) view Brexit with this importance.  

Despite Labour having addressed antisemitism in the party, many members believe the concerns were overstated

The Labour Party struggled to shake off claims of antisemitism at the last general election. Starmer has taken a harder line, sacking shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, temporarily suspending Corbyn and expressing that those who question the existence of antisemitism in the party are part of the problem and “should be nowhere near the party”.

In spite of this, only a quarter of Labour members (23%) say the party has a serious problem with antisemitism, which has not been exaggerated. Approaching half (46%) acknowledge there is a problem but say it’s overstated, while another quarter (24%) say the party does not have a serious issue with anti-Jewish racism.

The vast majority (72%) also say Corbyn should not be expelled from the Labour Party, while only 15% believe he should.

See the full results here