Archive for the 'Keir Starmer' Category


In other news Starmer moves to a net 24% lead over Johnson in latest Opinium approval ratings

Sunday, May 24th, 2020
Opinium May 21 ’20

A third of Tory voters disapprove of Starmer compared with three-quarters of LAB voters disapproving of Johnson

The latest Opinium poll carried out before the Cummings lockdown affair came out overnight and the big change has been in the approval ratings of the PM and LOTO. The charts above show the recent trends.

A big development is that for the first time Starmer has moved ahead of Johnson and he’s done it with a spectacular jump in just seven days. Last week he was just behind the PM. This week he is on a net plus 30% while Johnson is on a net 6%. So a gap of 24 points.

This week, of course, has seen the PM u-turn on NHS fees for overseas NHS workers and another lacklustre PMQs.

What’s really interesting in the figures is that Tory voters are viewing the LAB leader far more positively than you normally expect and Starmer only gets 33% of Tories voters disapproving of him which compares with 76% of LAB voters disapproving of Johnson.

Normally you expect to see high levels of disapproval both ways with CON and LAB backers being highly partisan in their view of the opposing leader.

Mike Smithson


Starmer’s ratings are generally getting better as the number of don’t knows declines

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

We are now in the 7th week of Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party and he could take some comfort about the general direction of his leader ratings which historically have been a better guide to election outcomes than voting intention polling.

When Starmer first got the job on April 4th he was relatively unknown and that was reflected in the smallish proportion of those polled who had an opinion. Thus in his first week just 42% of those polled by Opinium gave a view. The latest poll, published at the weekend has 60% of the sample giving a view.

That latest poll had him overtake Johnson in the net figures – when you deduct the negative percentage from the positive one.

So far we have yet to see an Ipsos MORI satisfaction rating on the new leader. The firm has been asking it main leader rating question since the 1970s and it will be good when we see its figures to compare Starmer against other opposition leaders.

Starmer has taken over at what could be seen as a difficult time for an opposition leader wanting to make a mark. The news is so dominated by the pandemic that it is hard for Starmer to get a look in.

Mike Smithson


How steep is Starmer’s mountain?

Monday, May 18th, 2020

Since the last election resulted in a substantial Conservative majority, many have said that Labour has a mountain to climb to win the next one.  The implication is that the result this time significantly influences the result next time.  The results in 2024 are influenced by the results in 2019.  

But is that true?  In the jargon, do general election results suffer from serial autocorrelation – that bane of second year graduate students in statistical fields?  

Serial autocorrelation defined

If I a roll two fair dice, I might get any value, from a two to a twelve, though the middle values (seven, eight, nine) are the most likely.  Then I roll them again.  Again, I might get any result.  And so on, ad infinitum.  But the first result tells you nothing at all about the second – I am as likely to roll a seven this time if I rolled a two last time, or a twelve.  

But if I take many economic statistics, there is often a correlation between one result and its predecessor.  For example, if you know last year’s that GDP was £2 trillion, you can be almost certain that next year’s will be between £1.8 trillion and £2.2 trillion.  So GDP is serially autocorrelated, but the roll of two fair dice is not.  

Are general election results serially autocorrelated?

So are British general election results more like a roll of two dice, or like GDP statistics?

My intuition has always been that any influence would be weak or non-existent. First, I’ve always thought that, unlike in the United States, the advantages of incumbency to individual candidates are limited. Second, there is substantial churn in the electorate as the old stop voting and the young start. Third, four or five years is a long time, and many going to vote in 2024 may not even remember, much less care, who they voted for in 2019. I’ve never thought that there is NO advantage to the current governing party if it has a substantial majority.  For one thing, new MPs seem to enjoy a slight first-time incumbency basis, and for another, governments with small majorities can seem pretty chaotic, and may be liable to be punished at the next election.  But, equally, I’ve never thought that any benefit is large.

Recently, I got around to testing my prejudice. The most widely used test for serial autocorrelation is the Durbin-Watson (DW) statistic. I have applied it to the Conservative seats in Parliament since the introduction of universal male suffrage in 1918. To those with no interest in detailed statistical testing, my result is that there is no convincing evidence of serial autocorrelation between general election results over the last century, i.e. losing after a landslide victory could be just as likely as losing a majority of 2.  

In case the relationship has shifted over time, I have also applied the same test to three political eras since 1918:

  • 1918-1945
  • 1950-1992
  • 1997-2019 

The result held true.  In fact, for two of those time periods, the DW statistic was greater than two, which implies, if anything, that a good general election result this time may mean a slightly weaker one next time (though the correlation was not significant). 

I have put the results at the end of the thread, for those into statistics.


Most relevant for this site, these results have important implications for those making long term bets as to the result of the next election.  The current Betfair odds are 4/6 that the Conservatives will win the most seats, compared to 6/5 for Labour.  If the general election result from last time does not influence the result next time, this could be slightly overstating the Conservatives’ chances and understating Labour’s.  (Of course, many other factors, such as punters’ appraisals of the qualities of the leaders, could influence the odds).

These results might also influence how we assess past leaders.  For example, some have praised David Cameron for winning more than a hundred seats from Labour in 2010, while others have criticised him for failing to win an overall majority against a lacklustre Labour government with a poor economic record.  If the 2005 result does not significantly influence what happens in 2010, as this research indicates, then the latter view is much more convincing.

For the future of the country, then, although no-one should deny that Sir Keir Starmer has a difficult task ahead of him, it’s all to play for in 2024. That Labour has to overturn forbiddingly huge majorities in Tory seats is less important than many think. The Conservatives can’t be complacent and Labour shouldn’t despair.

(Thanks to those other PBers who have checked and commented on my result.  Any errors or omissions are my own).


Detailed results

For those with nerdier inclinations, the time series I tested was the Conservative share of seats won at general elections, to allow for changes in the number of seats in the Commons. The data source was the site. The null hypothesis was no serial autocorrelation. The results are as in the table below.

As will be seen, there is no evidence for serial autocorrelation in any of the time periods surveyed.

Table: DW statistics for Conservative general election seat share (1918-2019)

Time periodnk’Critical DW (5% sig.)Observed DWResult
1918-20192711.4691.682Do not reject
1918-1945711.3562.264Do not reject
1950-19921211.3311.413Do not reject
1997-2019611.4002.346Do not reject


Why Starmer is unlikely to be the next PM

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

CON MPs will replace their leader if they feel Johnson’s shine has gone

For the moment, Boris Johnson walks on water in terms of popularity. He enjoys positive approval ratings, his party sits on opinion poll leads of around 20% and is hoovering up about half the vote. All of which is likely to count for very little in a year’s time, never mind three.

It goes without saying that these are abnormal times and that we should therefore treat all opinion polls with a degree of scepticism as far as they’re indicative of how opinion will lie when politics as normal resumes – or if politics as abnormal continues for a long time, as is possible. The bounce that both the Tories and Johnson personally have received, whether from a rally-round-the-flag effect or from the public being impressed by dramatic action being taken (or both), those effects are likely to wane as lockdown fatigue sets in.

The government’s handling of the outbreak is already decidedly mixed. It may get away with having been late in locking down because a few days one way or the other, two months ago, makes far more difference in the epidemic’s transmission than in ongoing public perception. On the other hand, the scandal of so many deaths having been brought about by hospital discharges into care homes is something where the government is very vulnerable and is already mismanaging its political response.

On the other hand, the financial support measures do appear to have enabled the economy to be put in a place from which it can recover quite quickly once the brakes are taken off. The contrast with the 36m new jobless claims in the US is obvious.

Even so, by this time next year, the UK will have had the triple challenge of (1) managing the health crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, (2) handling the economic and social consequences of the policies needed to mitigate the health crisis, and (3) the expiry of the Brexit deadline.

You might assume that given the first two, the third would be delayed, as the Withdrawal Agreement permits. Don’t expect it. Because an extension has to be requested so early in the process, when the pressure isn’t obviously on, it won’t be requested by a government elected on a clear mandate to Get Brexit Done, and which apparently believes that if a deal can only be done under extreme time pressure, better sooner rather than later.

Put simply, there is a real chance that elements of the lockdown will continue for many months, that deaths will continue to mount, and that 2021 could easily begin with the economy taking the hit of a No Trade Deal Brexit on top of the Covid-19 recession (which is a global phenomenon as well as a UK one), combined with an NHS struggling from the usual winter pressures in addition to the lingering Covid-19 outbreak – all on top of some continued social distancing and a population fed up with being stuck in a cold, wet, dark country which may well have been denied its Christmas parties as well as its summer holidays. These are not usually the elements that point to massive government approval, especially if expectations have not been properly managed – as they haven’t been.

They are, however, the elements that will define the rest of the parliament: the legacy from both Covid-19 and Brexit will last years. What then of Boris Johnson, whose prime role in life has always been to cheer people up? If he cannot sell sunny optimism because it’s so clearly out of line with the situation, and if he cannot lead the government through the more usual political skills, what is his purpose?

The obvious answer is to win elections, something he’s a very good track record of and which Tory MPs won’t dismiss lightly. However, past performance is no guarantee of future success, particularly in changed circumstances, and under the much more forensic spotlight of an opposition led by Keir Starmer, Johnson may struggle. His response to that kind of scrutiny during the election campaign was to hide in a freezer or duck from Andrew Neil: options not available now.

As an aside, we might be making a little too much of Starmer’s good PMQs this week. As Shadow Brexit Secretary, he was less effective at putting pressure on the government than Tory MPs were. That was partly down to both the parliamentary maths and Labour’s own divisions but it was also down to Starmer’s tactics, which lacked a good media game. The Covid-19 / care home scandal is an issue Starmer is well-suited to pursuing; such issues will not always be available and whether he can make similar headway at those times is more of an open question.

That said, four years is a long time and governments that enjoyed good ratings in their early months – Thatcher in 1987-8 or Blair in 2001-2 – can easily find them fade rapidly if events turn against them. There are more than enough political storm clouds on the horizon now to provide such potential events.

In this case, the likelihood is that if opinion does turn, it will turn against Johnson personally because it’s unlikely that this government will advance a policy as unpopular as the Poll Tax or Iraq War. Brexit is certainly divisive – even more so if it becomes a no Trade Deal Brexit – but it has many ardent supporters too. But questions of style and ability are much more likely to be foremost.

And if that is the case, then the solution for Tory MPs is not to change the policy but to once again change the leader – something they’ve proven more than capable of in the past. Here, Johnson’s 80-seat majority becomes not an asset but a liability. One of the main reasons why it took May so long to be toppled was fear of what might happen in parliament afterwards; that doesn’t apply now. Likewise, Major survived the 1992-7 parliament because both wings were more worried about the other winning a leadership contest than they were about Major continuing – so he did. But now, there are no two wings in the same way. His sole protection is his popularity.

To that end, I think the odds on Keir Starmer as next PM (currently 2.7 on Betfair; slightly worse than the 7/4 with Betfred), are poor. If Johnson looks like a loser, he’ll be replaced; if he looks like a winner in 2024, he may well be. It’s only if Tory MPs miscalculate or are paralysed into inaction that the bet is likely to come off, and that’s worse than a one-in-three shot in my book.

David Herdson


For decades the standard Tory election PlayBook has been to demonise whoever the LAB leader is. How will they do that with Starmer?

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020
GE1997 CON election poster

The former DPP presents a bigger challenge

In just about every general election in recent times a key Tory approach has been to demonise the the Labour leader in order to frighten voters not to vote for the party. That big broad approach more than anything was why Johnson won a clear majority last December.

Just go back to the way Michael Foot was portrayed at GE1983, Kinnock at GE1987 and GE1992 and more recently Brown at GE2010 and EdM at GE2015.

This can be very successful as we saw last December when the polling showed that the main reason why voters had switched from GE2017 LAB voters to the Conservatives was fear of Corbyn as PM. In that case there was a lot in the LAB’s leader’s back-story that gave them lots of material to play with.

This approach was even tried in 1997 against Tony Blair as can be seen in the poster above of. Of course it did not not work against the most successful General Election winner LAB has ever had because the Tory attacks simply didn’t chime with the public perceptions of Blair

So what are they going to do against Starmer? No doubt CCHQ has been trying to find things that will undermine the former Director of Public Prosecutions. The question is will it work? Personal attacks like this have to have an element of truth in them that chimes with public perceptions for them to succeed.

Based on what we have seen during the first few weeks of Starmer’s leadership it could be difficult to follow the template again.

On the Betfair exchange “next PM” market Starmer has moved from a 23.8% chance a 37% one now in just three weeks.

Mike Smithson


Some Tories are getting very nervy about Starmer

Monday, May 11th, 2020

A big COVID-19 political event today has been Keir Starmer’s broadcast response as leader of the opposition to Johnson TV address to the nation last night.

Such broadcasts have been an established party of political coverage since the 1960s when TV was starting to establish itself as the primary communications medium.

Dehenna Davison is very new to the Commons having won Bishop Auckland from Labour at the general election just five months ago.

Normally responses of opposition leaders don’t make any real mark and hardly get noticed. Tonight with Starmer it was very different because he came over effectively managing to raise issues in a manner that wasn’t overtly party political. Some were saying that he looked more “prime ministerial” than the incumbent. Certainly that appeared to be one of Starmer’s objectives.

Tory responses like Davison’s show the nervousness within the party about Labour’s new leader. On the face of it she shouldn’t be worried having won the seat with an 8k majority. But on December 12th Labour was led by Corbyn who could not be more unlike his successor.

Mike Smithson


The voting intention polls since LAB got its new leader

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Although there has been no big breakthrough for LAB since double election loser Corbyn was replaced by Starmer a positive is that the party is now out of the 20s and the CON share is edging down.

Inevitably during a crisis like this one it is hard for the opposition leader to get a look in because just about the only story being covered by the national media has been the pandemic.

A worry for the Tories is the growing negative numbers that we are seeing on aspects of the government’s handling of the crisis and the impression of a lack of preparedness and ministers appearing to wing it day by day.

Normal politics won’t resume until life starts to get back to normal.

Mike Smithson