Archive for the 'Labour leadership' Category


Starmer is the most popular leader of the opposition since Blair – so why isn’t LAB ahead?

Friday, June 19th, 2020

From Keiran Pedley – now of Ipsos-MORI

It is fair to say that Keir Starmer has made a positive start to life as Labour leader. Our latest figures from the Ipsos MORI political monitor show that 51% of the British public are satisfied with the job Starmer is doing, 20% are dissatisfied and 29% don’t know. 

Starmer’s net satisfaction score of +31 has never been beaten by a leader of the opposition in the 40+ years we have been tracking public attitudes to them. Blair achieved a score of +31 in December 94 and +30 in March 95. Cameron achieved a score of +23 in April 09, with a similar proportion satisfied to Starmer but higher levels of dissatisfaction. Nobody else comes close.

Yet when we look at our latest voting intention figures, Labour still trail the Tories by 5 points. The gap has closed from a lead of 22 before Starmer took over but the question remains: if Starmer is so popular, then why are Labour still behind?

First, we should acknowledge that the party leader is only part of the story when it comes to voter preferences – the party brand matters too. Our polling shows that Labour went into the last election seen as more ‘divided’ and ‘extreme’ than the Tories and less ‘fit to govern’. Some 48% were unfavourable towards the party, with just 32% favourable. Whilst the proportion of the public that is unfavourable has fallen 9 points since then, the proportion that are favourable has barely moved (31%). It will take time to repair Labour’s reputation with the voters, even if the public do tell us they expect Starmer to change the party for the better (46%) not the worse (9%).

Another part of the explanation can be found in public attitudes to Johnson and his government. 48% are satisfied with the job Johnson is doing as Prime Minister and 49% are dissatisfied. Johnson’s net score of -1 is nowhere near as bad as Major achieved when Blair recorded his best satisfaction rating (-56) or Brown achieved when Cameron had his (-28). Similarly, net satisfaction with Johnson’s government stands at -11, which compares favourably to the ratings achieved by Major’s government (-78) and Brown’s government (-47) at the same time. 

In short, whilst Starmer is achieving sky high satisfaction ratings, the current government and Prime Minister are nowhere near as unpopular as those faced by Blair and Cameron. In fact, the public still view Johnson as the more capable Prime Minister over Starmer, by the slender margin of 43% to 38%. So Starmer has not sealed the deal with the electorate yet. 

Clearly there is still work to do for team Starmer if they are going to get their man into Number 10. Labour needs to discredit the current government and Prime Minister more in the eyes of voters and make progress with demographic groups that have been hostile to the party in the recent past. 

This second point is important and worth reiterating. Labour’s problems with certain voters have not disappeared with Jeremy Corbyn. Our latest figures show the Conservatives holding a 27-point lead over Labour with those aged 65 and over. The party’s problems with leave voters, in Scotland generally and in the south-east of England are also well documented. 

However, the scale of Labour’s task should not detract from how good Starmer’s personal ratings are 2 months in.  Not even Blair had a score of +31 after 2 months. Though by the time he reached +31 in December 1994, Labour were 39 points ahead in the polls, right now they are still behind.

Therefore, Starmer’s challenge is to consolidate his good start and then try to turn public goodwill towards him personally into Labour votes. Whilst 42% of Conservative voters and 52% of Lib Dems think Starmer is doing a good job – they are not yet saying they will vote Labour.  Meanwhile, although 48% of those aged 65+ are satisfied with the job he is doing, 6 in 10 say they will vote Conservative.  

Nevertheless, the direction of travel is positive for Labour. The numbers show they have replaced the least popular leader of the opposition in 40+ years with one of the most – at least for now. The Conservative poll lead has shrunk since the election and the government faces serious challenges ahead navigating the COVID fallout and Brexit. If Starmer can sustain the positive first impression he has made with the public and that rubs off on his party, we should expect Labour poll leads to follow, especially if satisfaction with the government falls. 

This does not mean Labour wins the next election but earning the right to be heard again after such a big defeat in December will be a start.

Keiran Pedley

Keiran Pedley is Director of Politics at Ipsos MORI and tweets about polling and public opinion at @keiranpedley


GE2019 Tory remainers – the key voting group who are giving Starmer positive ratings

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

We are just over 3 years and 10 months from May 2nd 2024 which is the final date that the next general election can be held. That’s the time that the new Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has got in order to put himself into position where LAB can take enough seats to make the party electorally competitive.

LAB’s seat total from GE2019 was 202 – the lowest total that the party has achieved since 1935. To get a majority Labour needs to get 322 seats which is a massive gap to make up particularly as the SNP is increasing its strength in Scotland and the chances of Labour recovery there look very slim indeed. Back at GE2010 LAB took 41 of the 59 Scottish seats. Now they have just one.

So where are the votes that could help drive the Labour recovery that Starmer is very much hoping for going to come from. One group that looks quite promising are those Conservatives who voted with their party last December but who also opted for Remain in the referendum. They represent between a fifth and a quarter of the overall Tory vote.

Currently when asked the polling voting question Tory remainers are still staying largely with their party but there is some suggestion in the leader ratings that indicates that many are feeling quite positive about Starmer.

Generally those polled respond to leader questions in partisan terms thus Labour voters generally give very low ratings to Johnson. The interesting thing that is happening at the moment is that GE2019 CON Remainers are nothing like as negative about Starmer as you might expect. In fact in the recent deltapoll for the Mail on Sunday 40% of this segment gave a positive number to the Labour leader with 35% negative one.

There were even better numbers for the LAB leader in the latest Opinium where 49% of CON Remainers approved of Starmer with just 14% disapproving. At some stage the former DPP must be hoping that this can be converted into votes.

Mike Smithson


Who will be Sir Keir Starmer’s successor?

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

My 25/1 tip as next Labour leader.

It might seem odd, even before a pandemic, to start looking at Sir Keir Starmer’s successor a fortnight after he was elected, in normal circumstances the earliest there might be a vacancy in 2024 and if Starmer takes power at the next general election there might not be a vacancy for a decade or longer so it is possible the next leader of the Labour party isn’t on this list.

Things can rapidly change in markets like this, earlier on this month Richard Burgon was a deputy leader contender and spoken about as as a future leader, now he’s not even listed by Paddy Power in this market when a non MP is. What a fall for that extraordinary political talent that is Richard Burgon, but that’s the subject of a future thread.

For me the bet I’m advising is to take is the 25/1 on the Shadow Mental Health Minister, Rosena Allin-Khan, at Ladbrokes and Paddy Power (she was 33/1 a few days ago) and I hope my reasoning makes sense to you all.

She’s a Doctor and is currently on the front lines dealing with Covid-19, and even before the Covid-19 crisis Doctors have a stellar reputation with the public, as the regular Thursday 8 PM clap has shown. That she’s there on the front line dealing with this crisis will give her a credibility that only a handful of MPs will have and in built popularity that she can use when holding the government to account that someone who is a career politician cannot.

She also has a couple of advantages in her favour in the next Labour leadership, I get the feeling the wider Labour party really wants to elect their first female leader whilst it is possible the Conservative party might be on their third female Prime Minister later on this decade, like David Herdson, I cannot envisage a long premiership for Boris Johnson. That Dr Allin-Khan has BAME heritage might also be an advantage in any future Labour leadership contest.

What she showed in the Deputy Leadership race is that she’s transfer friendly as she increased her vote share by 10% and moved from third place to second place in the final round, by contrast Richard Burgon only increased by 4% which is why he slipped from second place in the first round to third place in the final round. So long as Labour use the flawless alternative vote system to elect their leaders Dr Allin-Khan should do well in Labour leadership contests.

So at 25/1 I think she’s value, I expect in the next reshuffle she’ll be promoted to the full shadow cabinet, but it is possible you might not get a payout for sometime, but with interest rates so low, it might be worth it.



Even Tory leavers are giving Starmer positive approval ratings

Monday, April 13th, 2020

Just a week after becoming Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has this weekend seen his first approval ratings and the numbers are certainly hugely different from those of his predecessor. He starts with an opinion net 26% lead for those saying he’s has their approval against those who say he doesn’t have their approval.

The party/referendum vote split will be encouraging for the Starmer camp. He’s clearly doing well amongst LAB remainers and GE2019 LDs and, as the graphic shows he’s doing better amongst CON remainers than LAB leavers admittedly only by a fraction. What is surprsing is that CON GE19/leavers give him a small positive rating.

Maybe this is all about LAB now being led by someone who is not electorally toxic like his predecessor.

An issue with leader ratings so soon after getting the job is that there’s high level of don’t knows a total which will get smaller over time.

Mike Smithson


The Grand Entrance. Sir Keir Starmer’s electoral challenges

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

So passes Jeremy Corbyn.  He hands over to his successor a party in the doldrums, with just 202 MPs, most representing seats in the largest metropolitan areas.  If Labour are to win an overall majority of one at the next election, they will need 124 extra MPs. That would require a uniform national swing of over 10%.  Such swings are exceptionally rare. The last time it happened was in 1997. So Labour better hope that Sir Keir is a new Tony Blair.

In practice, Labour could lead a government in a hung Parliament with fewer seats.  The Conservatives have no obvious Parliamentary allies at present, having burned their bridges with the DUP over Brexit, so Labour can probably form a government so long as Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems tally a combined 320 seats or so.  If the SNP and the Lib Dems stand still, that means Labour “only” need a further 55 to 60 seats to take power. That will still require a swing of 5%, which is still chunky by historical standards. 

Let’s survey the scene as it stands now.  First, the good news. Even as Labour have gone backwards, some seats have swung to them.  The following 12 Labour-held seats have been won by Labour since 2015: Bedford, Weaver Vale, Sheffield Hallam, Warwick & Leamington, Canterbury, Gower, Battersea, Putney, Bristol North West, Portsmouth South, Brighton Kemptown and Leeds North West.  This is a disproportionately metropolitan set of seats, but even so, Bedford and Weaver Vale suggest that there is more going on than just that.

Labour have comprehensively won the battle with the Lib Dems for urban progressives.  There is not a single Lib Dem-held seat in Labour’s first 250 targets. And if the Lib Dems were not going to make advances against Labour led by a leader tainted by accusations of anti-Semitism and half-heartedness on Brexit, they probably never will.  

That means that Labour are fighting on two fronts (the Conservatives and the SNP) rather than three.  The new Labour leader will need to consider carefully how ambitious he wishes to be. If he wants to aim for an overall majority, he will need to take on the SNP – there are 17 SNP-held seats in the first 124 Labour target seats, and if he is to aim for an overall majority without taking seats from the SNP, he will need to take seats such as Somerset North East on a swing of 13%.  This would be a colossal endeavour.

So he needs to weigh whether to aim for incremental gains this time, working with rather than against the SNP, or whether to dream big.  That is not an easy decision to make.

Labour could spend far too much time lamenting the loss of seats that now look like distant prospects.  They had never lost Bolsover before last year. It is now their 67th target, behind Northampton South and Altrincham & Sale West. Newcastle-under-Lyme, held by the Labour party for 100 years but now held by pb regular Aaron Bell, is safer for the Conservatives than Uxbridge & South Ruislip, the Prime Minister’s constituency.  Labour held Mansfield from 1923 to 2017. It is now their 200th target – if they take it, they will win a landslide.

I absolutely get that Labour members will feel that they ought to represent traditional working class constituencies.  They should ask themselves why the constituents of so many of those constituencies feel differently. In the meantime, if they want to put their moral crusade into practice, they need to have a strategy to build support in those areas which are presently most receptive to their message.  This may well not be those traditional working class constituencies.

So, for example, Labour can probably form a minority government without taking Rother Valley (target number 76).  They might not even need Sedgefield (target number 61). They are right to mourn the loss of seats like those. They should not see their only or even most plausible path to power as lying through such seats.

If Labour are to make progress, they will need to do so in their top 100 targets.  What do those constituencies look like?

The answer is surprisingly suburban. If Labour is to form even a minority government, on a uniform national swing that will include MPs for Chipping Barnet, Chingford & Woodford Green, and Wycombe.  Labour have only ever held one of these seats, Wycombe, and that only in the 1945 Parliament. Still, they took Canterbury and Kensington in 2017: precedents are made to be set.

A slew of traditional marginals remain marginal, despite Labour’s poor performance.  High Peak, Watford, Broxtowe, Warrington South, Wolverhampton South West, Peterborough, Stroud and Aberconwy are all essential wins for Labour next time around.  They are all still eminently achievable on reasonably normal swings.

What do these seats, and seats like Milton Keynes (North and South), Ipswich, Derby North and Lincoln, also all on the must-win list, all have in common?  First of all, they’re not particularly metropolitan. So the present incarnation of Labour must exert some pull on some groups other than urban professionals.

Nor are they especially deprived or especially insular.  Some (Warrington South, both Milton Keyneses, Peterborough) are the product of post-war planners, some have seen a regular influx of newcomers.  

In fact, if you were to sum up many of Labour’s targets, the word you would use is “middling”.  You could imagine The Office being set in them. You could not imagine them being the location for W1A.  

It was Aneurin Bevan who said that:

“The language of priorities is the religion of Socialism … The argument is about power … because only by the possession of power can you get the priorities correct.”

If so, Labour need to bring their priorities in line with those of middling Britain.  I suggest that means talking more about transport and less about trans rights, more about housing and hospitals and less about Hamas.  Labour talked about fitfully such bread and butter subjects under Jeremy Corbyn but without great focus.

So Labour need to find a voice for parts of Britain that are not particularly affluent but don’t necessarily look like backdrops for Billy Elliot or Hovis adverts.  But who knows, if they find that voice, perhaps they will be heard by voters in their former heartlands too?  

Alastair Meeks


Starmer gets his LAB victory with 56% of the votes on the first round

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

In the end it was all a bit down beat. The Labour Party announced at 10:45 a.m. that Starmer had become the next leader at having secured 56% of the votes in the first round thus easily beating Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy. As expected Angela Rayner has won the deputy race

But instead of making a victory speech to a packed special conference as had been planned the party issued a short video statement from Starmer he had prepared earlier. This was of course, was down to the coronavirus pandemic which meant that the planned conference that Labour had scheduled for today didn’t take place.

The main surprise was the size of his victory securing more than 3% that the best poll for him suggested that he was going to get and second preferences didn’t in the end need to be brought in.

The question now is whether the new leader will be able to take his strong position in this election to reshape the party to be an effective force that will fight the Tories at the next general election. There’s little doubt that much needs to be done in particular dealing with the charges of antisemitism that has so dogged things for the last 3 years.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that LAB leaders, other than Blair, have struggled at general elections. Only five times in the party’s entire history has it won a sustainable working majority and three of those were under Blair.

Mike Smithson


Labour’s new leader now has 2-3 months to prepare. How does he – or she – make use of that time?

Saturday, April 4th, 2020

For an opposition, when you can’t attack, organise

Not since the Conservatives’ 2001 leadership contest ended on September 11 that year has such an election been so overshadowed by wider events. Whoever succeeds Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader later today will likely find it impossible to take the fight immediately to the Tories. Parliament won’t sit for weeks and when it does return might well be in a muted form, the country as a whole is in a state of suspended animation, and criticising the government in the middle of a crisis – before the full facts or outcome are known – is a politically precarious business.

Not that Labour could have foreseen this; the election has been an extraordinarily convoluted and lengthy affair. When it began, the UK was still a member of the EU, Wuhan was still a city open to Chinese and foreigners to move about it, and the US House of Representatives had yet to send Trump’s impeachment articles to the Senate. It seems an age ago. It is.

So if taking to the offensive is off the table for the first few weeks at least, where then are the places where the new leader can and should make their mark? Here are a few thoughts.

The Shadow Cabinet

Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet was marked by two features. Firstly, those in it – after the 2016 leadership challenge anyway – were there because they were fully accepting of his leadership. And secondly, it was against his style to sack anyone on performance grounds.

In truth, those two points had quite a lot of overlap. In the 2016 No Confidence vote that Corbyn ignored, he only won the support of 40 MPs, and even fewer openly endorsed him in the subsequent leadership election. Tellingly, a large proportion of those that did ended up in the Shadow Cabinet.

Assuming Starmer does win, his first task will be to reconfigure and strengthen that core parliamentary team. This should not be a difficult task. Some, like Diane Abbott – still Shadow Home Secretary, if you hadn’t noticed – and John McDonnell have already indicated that they will return to the back-benches but several more could join them if the new leader wins a strong enough mandate. There is talent elsewhere in the PLP with which to replace them.

The Party Machine

This is a bit harder. The party leader does not make the most senior appointments to Labour’s professional staff, the NEC does – and the new leader will not necessarily have a majority on that. In truth though, that may not matter. The EHRC report into Labour’s antisemitism problem will land at some point. If that proves critical of Labour’s internal structures, processes and/or personnel – and the prima facie evidence suggests it could well – it would surely be impossible for the NEC to refuse to make changes if the Leader demanded them, though no doubt the Leader would rather they didn’t have to.

I don’t have nearly enough knowledge of Labour’s machine across the country to say whether it’d be advisable to seek to make changes there too, other than that if it is a good idea then it’s a good time too.


Oppositions nearly always have a long time to develop policies and Labour has an especially long one now. Against a Tory majority of 80, there is no prospect of an early election for which a manifesto will be needed, and with the Covid-19 epidemic raging, there’s no space in which to develop them publicly anyway (and besides, that very crisis could well overtake any policies developed precipitously). The new leadership team – Leader, Shadow Cabinet, and leading advisors – in reality don’t need to come up with anything concrete until at least the Party Conference in September.

Even on Brexit, which is time-constrained and so something on which Labour does need a credible position fairly quickly, by far the easiest line to push is to demand an extension in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic. That will keep Labour Remainers relatively happy and, if the point is made early enough, potentially appear to push the government into something it will almost certainly have to do anyway. After that, by far Labour’s best option is not to advocate any particular line but to pick holes in the government’s actions (or inactions). There will be a debate to be had about Rejoin but that can be put off until about 2023, assuming there is still an EU worth rejoining.


The natural instinct of an opposition will always be to attack: it’s in the nature of adversarial politics. However, against a popular (for now) government in the middle of a major crisis, this is not the time; not without solid, hard, relevant facts anyway – which may or may not exist. So in the absence of the opportunity to sack it to the government, the next best thing is to prepare for when you can.

To that end, Labour could learn a lot from William Hague’s tenure as Leader of the Opposition, providing it picks the right things. Hague inherited a much worse position than Starmer (or Nandy or Long-Bailey) will: Blair’s popularity in 1997 was deep-rooted, the economy was on the up and the Labour government was a novelty.

After an initial attempt to contest the centre-ground, he rightly recognised that he was engaged in a forlorn task and so had to settle for a core-vote strategy, defend what he had and gain where he could. That isn’t the relevant bit for Labour: ten years into Tory-led governments, the pendulum should be far more ready to swing than it was in the late 1990s. No, the most significant aspect of Hague’s tenure was a major overhaul and modernisation a Tory Party organisation; a reform which significantly streamlined its running, improved its capacity for decision-making and –implementation, and campaigning. Ultimately, that would significantly benefit David Cameron in 2010.

My outsider’s impression of the Labour machine is that its complex organisation and many committees, and its love of meetings, procedures and resolutions are not necessarily an aid to its cause. Again, a review early in a parliament off the back of a leadership election mandate would be the time to do something about that.

The election result today will be a minor news item, the result announced in a very low-key manner. That alone tells a story. Labour might have been indulgent in taking three months to elect a leader but come 2024, that won’t matter. Nor will much of what they say over the next few months, which will be ancient history by then and probably little noticed even at the time given what else is going on – unless it’s a serious gaffe. But that doesn’t mean Labour need let these months when politics as normal is suspended drift by; there is much to do.

David Herdson


The positive thing for Starmer about LAB’s polling position is that at least there’s scope for improvement

Friday, April 3rd, 2020
Table: David Cowling

Well tomorrow at this time LAB will have its new leader and the suggested negative influence of Corbyn will be no more. The big question is whether the former DPP is able to so present a different proposition to voters that first, the seats lost at GE2019, become prospects again.

In a sense the current voting intention polling likely flatters the Tories given how fighting the virus totally dominates everything. The Johnson team is in charge making extraordinary demands of citizens which is largely being followed. Polling in other countries has shown a similar move to the incumbent government.

My guess is that Starmer’s election will receive a general positive response from the public if only that he is not Corbyn. That should help first get the Tory shares below 50% and then provide a foundation for Labour progress.

Mike Smithson