Labour members: 69% think Burnham would be a better leader than Starmer

Patrick EnglishResearch Manager
July 01, 2021, 1:58 PM UTC

A new poll of Labour members conducted by YouGov shows two in five party members think Sir Keir should stand down if Labour fail to defend Batley and Spen on Thursday 

Over the last week, YouGov has interviewed almost 900 Labour members on behalf of Sky News, asking their opinions on the party’s leader, senior figures and prospects for the future.  

The results do not make comfortable reading for Sir Keir Starmer.  

Should he stay or should he go? 

Currently, just over half (54%) of the membership think Keir Starmer should remain as party leader, while one third (34%) believe it is time for him to step down. One in six (17%) who backed him to lead the party in 2020 and 86% of those who voted for Rebecca Long-Bailey – his rival in the contest – think he should stand aside.   

Just over half (53%) think that he will remain as leader through until the next General Election. A third (34%) believe it is unlikely that the under pressure leader will last that long. 

The biggest immediate headache for Starmer, though, is what should happen if the party loses the Batley and Spen by-election on Thursday. While just under half (48%) think he should stay if the Labour is defeated, two in five (41%) believe he should step down.  

There are notable geographical divides on this issue. Half (50%) of Labour members in the North of England think that Sir Keir should stand down if the constituency is lost, along with 43% of those in the Midlands and Wales. That compares to just over a third (36%) of members in London.  

How he has done as leader 

Just over half (55%) believe Starmer has done well leading the party, while 42% think he has done badly. While 65% of older members (aged 65+) give his leadership a thumbs up, this figure falls to 43% among those aged 25-49.  

Despite his efforts to transform the Labour party and its electoral fortunes, only four in ten (40%) think that Sir Keir has “changed the party for the better”. Meanwhile, a quarter (25%) think he has changed the party for the worse, while 30% believe he has not made any real difference. 

Alternatives to Starmer  

We also asked Labour members about their preferences for alternative party leaders. Here, we found that seven in ten (69%) members feel that Andy Burnham would “be a better leader than Keir Starmer”. Just 7% think the Mayor of Greater Manchester would be worse, while 17% reckon he would be “much the same”. 

Members are much less keen on the prospects of Sadiq Khan. While 29% think the Mayor of London would do a better job than Starmer, 20% believe he would do worse, and 38% think he would do much the same. 

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy attracts similar figures to Khan (23% better, 24% worse, 37% the same), while the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper receives a slightly more positive reception (38% better, 15% worse, 32% the same). 

However, there is little encouragement to be found here for potential challengers from the left of the party. While 23% of members believe that Rebecca Long-Bailey would do a better job than Starmer, over half (54%) think she would do worse (13% the same). Equally, while one in six (16%) members reckon that Richard Burgon would make for a better leader, 39% think he would be worse (11% the same). 

Of course, only existing MPs can be leaders of the Labour Party. In a perspective ballot of prominent Labour MPs who might contest a leadership election, we found that Yvette Cooper attracted by far the most support, with 35% of Labour members indicating they would back her.  

Lisa Nandy attracts the support of 13% of members, slightly ahead of Angela Rayner (12%) and Rebecca Long-Bailey (11%). Richard Burgon has the backing of 6% while “none of these” scores 13%. 

How well are leading Labour figures doing? 

While Keir Starmer’s numbers look mixed at best, his Shadow Cabinet appear to be performing much better in the eyes of the party membership. Two thirds (68%) believe that Lisa Nandy has done well in her role as Shadow Foreign Secretary (compared to 16% who think she has done badly), and Deputy Leader Angela Rayner performs about the same, with 67% of members thinking she has done well (23% badly). Just over half (53%) of members think Rachel Reeves has done well in her role as Shadow Chancellor (compared to 19% that believe she has done badly). 

However, the Shadow Cabinet’s performance is eclipsed by both Andy Burnham (who 94% of Labour members think has done a good job as Mayor of Greater Manchester), and Sadiq Khan (who 87% of members believe has performed well as Mayor of London). 

The future 

Labour members are not optimistic about their party’s chances at the next General Election either. Two thirds (65%) think it is unlikely that the party would win the next nationwide ballot, compared to just one in five (21%) who believe the party would emerge victoriously. 

In terms of its message to the electorate, members think that the party should “get on with announcing more detailed policies for the country” (64% support, versus 27% who said the party should wait until closer to the election), and that they should “keep most of the policies that Jeremy Corbyn put forward at the last election” (51% support, versus 23% who said Labour should drop the former leader’s platform). 

See the full results here