Thursday 28 January 2021

Why Isn't Keir Starmer 20 Points Ahead?

I'm about to extend Keir Starmer a courtesy the liberals, the Blairist, and the right wingers never afforded Jeremy Corbyn. What are the forces in play sustaining the logjam in the polls? In the last four days DeltaPoll put the Tories on 41% and Labour on 39%. Redfield split the difference less favourably, with the Tories enjoying 42% versus Labour's 37%. And then, on Thursday, a glint of light. YouGov reported Labour on 41% and the Tories down to 37%. The performance of the two parties have bobbed up and down like this since mid-Autumn, despite the odd Tory calamity and the 100,000 Covid dead. Labour has not landed a knock out blow, and the Tories have kept their jealously guarded authority together.

How then, how can it be we're still in this position. What are the drivers keeping the bulk of Tory voters onside? First, we have to consider the pandemic itself. Recalling polling last March, the Tories were powering ahead on 56%(!) just as the lockdown came in to force. Labour languished on just 26%. Some was undoubtedly down to the Corbyn factor. I.e. He was a lameduck leader as the contest for his successor played out, but more of it was thanks to the special political circumstances of the moment. Covid-19 was new and largely unknown, and to ward it off many millions did not venture out of their homes for weeks. In this novel emergency, millions turned to the only institution capable of organising the public health strategies and providing the material for dealing with it. The state, in other words. Or more precisely, the government. In a national emergency, many people rallied round and backed the Tories as the expression of the collective effort against the disease. Keir Starmer for his part was very mindful of this and, to his mind, justified his cautious approach at the beginning of this and ever since.

Ridiculous poll leads can't last forever, and as the novelty of the crisis faded into the new normal those Tory numbers came sliding down to where they are now. But not for everyone. There are voters, many of whom might have "lent" their ballots to get Brexit done, who are sticking with the Tories precisely because they are the government during this moment of existential angst. These are also the people the strategic geniuses in the leader's office want to win over by alienating leftwing voters in safe Labour seats in the big cities.

Then there is the inescapable fact of politics these last six years: how economic polarisation has led to political polarisation. On the one hand, the young disproportionately suffer low pay, precarious jobs, few opportunities for career advancement, a lifetime of renting, poor social security entitlements, and growing anger at a government putting them at the sharp end of the Covid crisis. Against them are the majority of the old and retired. They enjoy secure pensions, are more likely to own property (and a significant number own more than one), and know they benefit from housing supply shortages and the private rental market. Thanks to their social location, life is riddled with ontological anxieties. From their point of view, the Tories have looked after them since the triple lock on pensions was introduced, they've delivered Brexit at their behest, they keep the young in their (disadvantaged) place and aren't averse to giving their favourite scapegoats a good hiding, and are prioritising them for Covid vaccinations. Because the government has ensured these demographics are sheltered from the economic consequences of the pandemic and Brexit, the more likely they'll swallow the Tory line that people are primarily to blame for the catastrophe than Boris Johnson. Because Tory framing has become their framing, the clear age profile to Covid fatalities isn't a failure of government. It's a matter of rotten luck.

These are the two key reasons - loyalty in a crisis, and the fact the Tories put the interests of their core constituents before public health goes some way to explain why we are where we are. But this is where we hit an interesting anomaly. Love or loathe Jeremy Corbyn, everyone can agree he was a polarising figure. The horrendous demonology purposely and cynically concocted by right wing Labour, the Tories and their press helpers wound up and terrified their supporters, swing voters, and soft Labour voters of leave and remain persuasions. The consequences were a firming up of the Tory voter coalition and exacerbating divisions among their opponents. A casebook example of divide and rule in a liberal democracy.

Yet, with Keir Starmer matters are very different. He faces a government much worse than the fag end of Dave and Osborne, the Theresa May interlude, and even the pre-Covid Boris Johnson period. He has, so far, managed to play the media game in a conventional way and they've proven quite supportive. He doesn't face the daily character assassinations hurled at his predecessor. And, according to polling done on his leadership - further confirmed by phone banking Labour across the seats lost in 2019 - is that Keir is liked, or at the very least is tolerated more than most politicians. His esteem is certainly higher than Johnson's, for one. Jeremy Corbyn was significantly weighed down by an accumulation of disadvantages. Keir Starmer, on the other hand, travels light. The worst he's had to deal with yet are a few grumbles.

Still, the Tory position remains, and Labour's poll leads are episodic and fleeting. Granting these benign circumstances for an opposition, the conclusion is inescapable. While a 20 point lead is impossible, the lack of leadership shown by Keir Starmer, his refusal to contest the rules of the game and, at every step, either tailing the government when he wants to look statesmanlike, or tailing SAGE or Marcus Rashford when he wants to be critical, is helping perpetuate the polling deadlock. To the public who don't follow politics, he's merely an empty suit, someone avoiding self-definition in the hope that hopes can be projected onto his vacant profile. Which is exactly where the Tories want him. If he won't define himself, Johnson will do it for him.

Here is your anomaly. Wider polarisation is keeping the Tory coalition together. And it's aided and abetted by a milquetoast opposition unwilling or unable to say boo to a goose.

Image Credit


Boffy said...

The reason seems obvious to me. Marxists are always going to argue for support for Labour for the reasons Marx and Engels set out, of the need not to set up alternatives to the Workers Party, the reasons Lenin, Trotsky et al set out of needing to stick with the workers, and gain their ear, and so on. We are always going to do that, and try to convince workers to join us in the struggle of transforming such bourgeois workers' parties into genuine workers' parties, or else of creating such a large proportion of support for such that the existing parties split.

But, if you are just Joe Bloggs, an average progressive social-democratic Labour voter it may not seem to you that that is what you should do. Rather than seeing this longer-term strategic objective understood by the Marxist, you may just feel extremely pissed off by the fact that Starmer undermined Corbyn over Brexit - though Corbyn contributed most to that himself - and now has become an even bigger Brexiter, an even bigger jingoist and reactionary nationalist! You might be even more pissed off that Starmer seems set on destroying the party, so as to make it indistinguishable from the Tories, and at this rate UKIP or the Brexit Party.

So, why, if you are that Joe Bloggs Labour voter, whether you live in Stoke, Wigan or Islington would you be enthusiastic about giving Starmer's New Labour your support? The vast majority of Labour voters, like all voters, are not activists, let alone theoreticians and strategists. Their political involvement amounts to voting periodically and that's it. That is the only means by which they see of having even the slightest impact on anything. So, they will respond by punishing Labour by not voting or voting for some other party, even if that is cutting their nose off to spite their face, and goes nowhere to helping get shut of Starmer and change the LP.

As in 2019, when Corby swung back to his pro-Brexit nationalistic line, and Labour haemorrhaged votes in the Spring and at the GE, so Starmer's further lurch to the Right is going to have the same effect. he won't pick up reactionary votes in the decayed urban areas, but he will lose large chunks of labour's actual core vote amongst the working-class youth, and middle aged.

Stanley Baldwin said...

I find it hard to see how Johnson will still be prime minister at the time of the next election.

Anonymous said...

Look at the evidence in front of you: in 2017 Corbyn rode a huge anti-May vote and nearly won despite his shortcomings.By the end of 2019 he'd led Labour to its worst showing at the elections in living memry. The 'horrendous demonology purposely and cynically concocted by right wing Labour, the Tories and their press helpers wound up and terrified their supporters,' (because working people are dumb shits who are easily terrified, right 'comrade'?) was all so easy beacause you had the leader of a mainstream party who had shown support for the fringes of Arab neo-Nazism like Hamas and Hezbollah. Labour were fucked from the moment Corbyn was elected.

So. The facts that are confusing you: The public like Starmer but they still dont want to vote Labour.

Maybe its not Starmer thats the problem. Maybe JC's legacy is to have left Labour looking like a steaming pile of dogshit to the avergae voter and KS cannot polish that turd enough despite being likeable.

Paul Smith said...

Re anonymous, just two brief points (a complete response would require an essay'): 'Arab neo-nazism' requires argument; the 2019 result for Labour was very bad in terms of seats not votes (please check) - this is how the simple-majority, single-members system works (also please check).

Blissex said...

«the leader of a mainstream party who had shown support for the fringes of Arab neo-Nazism like Hamas and Hezbollah.»

Ahhh, looks like a likudnik hallucination that the great mass of english voters are also likudniks and thus obsessed with whether Corbyn is for or against "bomb bomb bomb Hamas/Hezbollah/Iran" :-).

«Labour were fucked from the moment Corbyn was elected.»

But Labour got fewer votes in 2005, 2010, 2015 and that was *before* Corbyn was elected, and after Corbyn was elected it got a huge surge in votes and popularity against much better governments than this. So either way the issue is not Corbyn.

In any case the "centrists" have always argued that the leader is 100% responsible for the success of the party, the "vast majority" of voters who are centrists put their personal faith and trust solely in the leader, so for example it is only because "the unions chose the wrong Milliband" that Labour was defeated in 2015.

Is the argument now that the current leader is not accountable, but past leaders like Corbyn and Ed Miliband are instead?

Anonymous said...

Fucksake. character limit. part 1

+'Arab neo-nazism' requires argument+

Hamas' founding statement is half self determination and half mein kampf even down to quoting the protocols of zion. Theres a bit of a broken line to them from the PLO (check out Arafat's cousin Haj-Amin al-Husseini), the Arab brotherhood and the post-war training centres set-up by the ex-Nazis that Nasser employed as muscle. But its a line. One of the tragedees of Palestine is that this bunch and them Iranian proxies are never going to free the Palestinian people but idiot Westerners keep treating them like they're legit. Anyway,blissex is right, this is only interesting to the shrinking number of people botherd about actual existing nazis but the bottom line is that if you want a left leader of Labour don't hand the right wing press an easy target. Corbyn was a gift to their press: naive public school tankie who cheerleads for complete dickheads and with strategy skills to rival his brother.

Im sorry but all that bolocks about vote share doesnt count for much when Labour is losing the kinds of seats it did in 2019. Losing some of them was unbelievble. If youre right and not twisting facts then so labour managed to get a higher share of teh vote and still fail disasterously? It won the wrong votes then didnt it? 2017 was a complete failure. The Tories were practically sacrificng May. Those letters falling off during her speech? That is not a supported candidate. "Give Labour the Brexit traincrash and let them fuck it up and then we'll move in and take over. 'Put things right'" And Labour still managed not to win. Gave that dickhead Boris bloody Johnson a massive majority. ANY leader after the corbyn trainwreck has to reinvent Labour after 2019's COMPLETE DISASTER - just fucking admit it and we might get somehwre. I couldnt give a toss about Keir Starmer but the thing is he's got the job of selling Ratner's jewellry after the Ratner meltdown speech.

Everyone I know is working class. NOt 'Yeah but my middle class job is actully a working class job because i'm a worker' bollocks but yer actual working people. And they think Corbyn was a joke. But youll never know. Theyre not the sort to do opinion polls or answer the door to some prick from a political party. It might as well be jehovahs or debt collectors. And they could not stand him. All kinds of reasons but the bottom line was they didnt think he could hold his own if he wanted to piss straight. Trouble is yous lot will never find that out. Your party meetings, door knocking, all the rest. I worked on the railways, buses, warehouses, met folks at the football, pubs, job centre, all the rest and no one, not one person ever said, 'Eh, I got asked to do an opinion poll the other day, what yer reckon?' No one. You don't hear from the likes of me.We dont feature and im trying to tell you that corbyn came across as a bit of a prick. rick from the young ones but no jokes. But he made labour a joke. That 'wooo jeremy corbyn' glastonbury bollocks? That was like sea shanties this year. just a thing that kids were into for a few weeks. All them memebers? Where are they now?

Anonymous said...

Part bloody 2

The leader right now has to make labour his or her own. It is still Corbyns labour to a lot of folks because he is still looming over it, people are still waving tehir corbyn flags and all that top boy bullshit and the press campaign that he seemed to revvel in means he is lingering more in the public mind than starmer can assert himself over. Yes starmers likeable to a lot of people but if labour is ever going to have a prayer again he needs to cut ties with corbyn. just front it out "yeah he was a bit of a prick but he's gone now, we've shoveled the shit out." And starmer is crap, we know that, but he needs to clean out the stench left behind by corbyn and his little gang of chums before people are going to look at labour like new again.

ANd lets be honest. By the time the next elections called it wont be starmer leading labour. his job is to leave a clean slate for the next leader to make it theirs. Problem is the left is so backward looking and romantic about the past it'll probably screw up again, look backwards to phony corbynmania and push someone useless like burgon or that one who managed to lose a seat in the Northeast. Cant remember her name but she was the chosen one. Pidcock! Rememberd it! The thing is there'll probably be such a mad reinvention of facts that everyone will forget how bad her and her team fucked up in the safest of safe seats. It'll be all flat caps and whippets 70s nostalgia and we'll end up with gove or some other hideoous prick as PM. Problem is the left always lets us down by doing this. spinning like every other bastard politician and not being honest about the failures. And when all my neighbours and everyone i know see just more lying politicians? Well they cant be arsed voting for anyone. And thats were all your votes you need are.

Blissex said...

«The leader right now has to make labour his or her own. It is still Corbyns labour to a lot of folks because he is still looming over it»

And here we go into sheer hallucination! What kind of TRUE LEADER can fail to "make labour his or her own" over one year after Corbyn was booted out, and nearly a year after their appointment?
I propose here again to replace Keir Starmer with "true social-democrat" Rishi Sunak, who is 20 points ahead of Keir Starmer in popularity! :-)

Dipper said...

''I find it hard to see how Johnson will still be prime minister at the time of the next election.'

One of the certainties of the last few years of Conservative politics is that Johnson would never be leader, let alone PM.

He is doing a great job. Take the EU vaccine fiasco - it would have been easy for a right-wing populist leader to make this an issue to pin his nationalism on and be confrontational. But Johnson has been quiet and calm, radiating good will and co-operation.

The Covid crisis is hard for Labour. It isn't an ideological issue, and criticism of Johnson's performance on Covid has been largely seen by many for what it is - partisan carping by people who have an ideological bias against him. Furthermore it looks like Johnson will get a good exit from the crisis.

Labour needs to find a purpose in a post-Brexit post-Covid world. Being a cheer-leader for the public sector has a limited electoral upside, and cheer-leading more public spending once the focus turns to the scale of the debt incurred in Covid is going to be swimming uphill.

Perhaps Johnson will lose his touch and hand Labour opportunities. But at the moment it doesn't look like it.

Blissex said...

«While a 20 point lead is impossible, the lack of leadership shown by Keir Starmer, his refusal to contest the rules of the game and, at every step, either tailing the government when he wants to look statesmanlike, or tailing SAGE or Marcus Rashford when he wants to be critical, is helping perpetuate the polling deadlock. To the public who don't follow politics, he's merely an empty suit,»

The "centrist" argument that most voters are "centrists" and like "leadership" and give their vote tp the most "centrist" party which has the most leadershipful "leader", and this argument that New, New Labour is not 20 points ahead because Keir Starmer is failing to show opposition leadership are equally wrong, because "politics" does not matter a lot.

Keir Starmer is not 20 points heads because 20% of Conservative votes have no compelling reason to switch their votes to New, New Labour: most voters don't vote on programme and leadership, they don't vote on "politics", they vote on the record of the governing party as to their vote-moving issue: if it satisfied they vote to return the government, if not, punish the government by voting to "throw the bums out" and give a chance to the opposition.

In the current situation the Conservative voters has no reason to "throw the bums out", even if many despise them, because their vote moving issues are satisfied: property (and shares) keep booming, COVID lock-downs do not affect much affluent rentiers or affluent professionals (except for not being able to offload the children to the nursery or school), "brexit" got done, and the government is still vigorously defending the supremacy of England from the "bullying and punishments" of the EU and from the "whingeing and scrounging" scots.

Why should 20% of Conservative voters switch their vote and risk the successful record of the current Conservative government? They have no reason to.

In 1997 Conservative voters did not switch to New Labour because it was a better, more competent "quasi-Conservative" (Peter Mandelson) party, having faith in relatively untested Blair, but because the Conservatives had screwed up massively with a property crash and negative equity. Indeed while most voters who wanted to punish the Conservatives voted New Labour *by default* (they would have voted Khmer Rouge for Pol Pot as PM), many others voted for the LibDems or abstained, and as their disappoinment with New Labour rose, more and more voted LibDem or abstained, while not daring to vote Conservative as New Labour was still pushing up property prices.

In 2010 Conservative voters went back to relatively untested Cameron and Osborne, because New Labour had also failed them on their vote moving issue. Many however kept voting for the LibDems or abstained because they still remembered the property crash of the 1990s, so while Cameron and Osborne wont by default too in 2010 as Blair had in 1997, they did not win an absolute majority of seats until their record of pushing up property prices (and pushing down wages and welfare) was established.