Would someone else do a better job than Keir Starmer as Labour leader?

Fintan SmithPolitical Researcher
May 14, 2021, 8:30 AM UTC

In the wake of a poor set of results for Labour in the recent local elections, criticism of Keir Starmer’s leadership has been coming thick and fast from both the left and the right of the party.

Some argue that Starmer is a victim of circumstance, becoming leader during the middle of a pandemic and with the government’s successful vaccination programme setting making it difficult for Labour to get attention.

Others believe that responsibility for this latest poor electoral outcome for Labour lies at Starmer’s door, and believe another leader would have delivered a better result. But do the public think anyone could be doing a better job?

In order to find out, YouGov asked the public about four prominent Labour politicians: Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, 2020 leadership rival Rebecca Long-Bailey, and former leaders Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn.

Few believe Corbyn or Blair would do a better job than Starmer

For most Britons, Starmer has been doing a better job than his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. A large majority (62%) believe that Corbyn would be doing a worse job than Starmer, with only 15% believing he would do any better and 11% expecting a comparable performance.

Among 2019 Labour voters, confidence in Corbyn is higher, although Starmer is still seeing as the more capable politician. More than four in ten Labour voters (43%) think Corbyn would have done a worse job than Starmer, compared to 35% who think the former leader would have handled things better. Another 14% expect they would have been about the same.

Despite calls for Starmer to try and imitate Tony Blair’s style and vision in order to win over the public, Britons are twice as likely to think that Starmer is doing a better job (41%) than the last Labour prime minister would have done (22%). Another 21% think he would have done about the same.

The views of 2019 Labour voters are similar, with 27% believing Blair would be doing a better job, 36% believing he would do a worse job and 23% thinking his performance would have been similar.

Nearly half of Labour voters believe Andy Burnham would do a better job than Starmer

One place where Labour did do well on polling day was in Manchester, with Andy Burnham, former Labour shadow home secretary, increasing his majority in a landslide victory that sees the Labour mayor re-elected to take on his second term. This victory has since ignited calls for Burnham to consider another leadership bid of the Labour party, that he has not ruled out.

 Of the politicians we asked about, the public are most likely to believe that Burnham would be doing a better job than Starmer (32%) of the four figures we asked about. A further 17% believe he would not be doing any better or worse, and only 13% believe he would do a worse job than Starmer. A quarter of Britons say they’ve not heard of Manchester’s mayor.

Among 2019 Labour voters, nearly half (47%) believe that Andy Burnham would do a better job as leader than Starmer, and just 7% believe he’d do a worse job than Starmer. Another 15% thing Burnham would be about the same as Starmer. The results also show that one in five Labour voters (18%) don’t know who Andy Burnham is.

Few think Rebecca Long Bailey would have outperformed her leadership rival

At the 2020 Labour leadership election, Starmer’s main opponent for the title was Momentum candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems that the public don’t think that she would have been a better leader than Starmer. Only 9% believe Long-Bailey would have made a better leader, with 23% believing she would be a worse leader. Another 16% expect RLB would have done about the same, while 18% are unsure and 33% don’t know who she is.

Belief in Long-Bailey is slightly higher amongst 2019 Labour voters but nonetheless remains low, with just 16% believing she would have done a better job than Starmer, 21% believing she would have done a worse job and 18% expecting a similar performance. Long Bailey is even less well known among Labour voters than Burnham, with 27% saying they’ve not heard of her.

See full results here