A third of Labour members think Starmer is doing badly as leader

Adam McDonnellAssociate Director of Political and Social Research
April 15, 2021, 10:06 AM UTC

While half of the Labour membership think the leader has changed the party for the better, one in five think he has made things worse

It’s fair to say Keir Starmer’s first year as opposition leader hasn’t been a normal one. Elected just a few weeks after the first COVID lockdown was announced, his perceptions amongst the public have been mixed. Strong public approval last summer has dwindled away in recent months, and with the government’s approval going the opposite direction, Starmer’s honeymoon period seems to be well and truly over.

But one year on, how do his own party members rate his performance as leader?

Overall, 64% of Labour members think Keir Starmer is doing well, while a third (34%) think he is doing a bad job. While the majority of members do approve of the leader, the one in three who disapprove of his performance thus far imply that he is still yet to win over certain factions within the party.

Indeed, when looking at his support by how people voted in the leadership election last spring, we see massively contrasting views. Amongst those who voted for Starmer, 81% think he’s doing well and just 17% badly. These numbers are reversed for those who voted for Rebecca Long Bailey – seen as the candidate closest to outgoing leader Jeremy Corbyn – with just 17% saying Starmer is doing well and 82% thinking he’s doing badly. Almost half of Long Bailey voters (46%) rate his performance ‘very badly’.

Starmer is seen as an improvement on Corbyn

While Starmer’s numbers are perhaps not as positive as you’d hope from your own membership, he is doing comparatively better than his predecessor was at a similar time in his premiership. In August 2016, just under a year after Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, 53% of full members thought Corbyn was doing well, versus 45% badly. It is important to note, however, that Corbyn was facing another leadership battle one year in, and so opinions may have been more divisive than in normal times.

Members are split on whether Starmer has changed the party for the better in his time as leader. Just under half (48%) think he has, 27% think he is yet to really make any difference, while 22% think he has actually made things worse.

Again, Long Bailey voters are overwhelmingly likely to have this pessimistic view, with 74% thinking he has made things worse. This is perhaps not that surprising given these members were far more likely to approve of Corbyn even after he had announced he would stand down as leader. Indeed, we found in February 2020 that 97% of those intending to vote for Long Bailey thought Corbyn had done well as Labour leader.

Looking more into Starmer’s qualities as a leader, he is rated highest on his competence (82%), trustworthiness (73%) and likability (69%). Members are more divided when it comes to his strength as a leader (55% say he is strong, 28% weak) and decisiveness (57% decisive, 32% indecisive). These two attributes are also the ones he performs poorest on amongst the public more widely.

Prime Minister Starmer? Labour members aren’t sure

Perhaps the most pessimistic view members have about Keir Starmer concerns his chances of becoming Prime Minister. Asked how likely it is that he’ll ever get the top job, Labour members are split, with 46% saying it’s likely and 45% saying it’s unlikely.

Despite this, few are calling for his head just yet. Seven in ten (70%) say he should remain as leader, with 23% thinking he should stand down and let someone else take over. Members also appear to be giving him a free pass this May, with 64% saying he should remain leader even if the party perform poorly in the devolved and local elections. One in four (28%) think he should stand down in this scenario.

See the full results here