Tuesday 4 April 2023

Why Keir Starmer is Polling Poorly

Three years into the job, how is Keir Starmer doing? Labour are enjoying healthy polling leads. The 20 points ahead meme has died as the score is routinely achieved. The Labour leader has also avoided attracting negative press, and what little he cops doesn't stick. The money bags donors are returning too, while the trade unions are relatively quiescent. Unfortunately, not everything is peachy. There is trouble at t'mill. According to Ipsos polling, he and Rishi Sunak are pretty much level pegging on 'best Prime Minister'. Starmer's score is less than what Jeremy Corbyn's was during this point of his leadership, and among Labour voters 48% are satisfied with his performance vs 45% dissatisfied. Not great when this is compared to Sunak, whose scores are 75% and 15% respectively among Tories. If that wasn't bad enough, Starmer's net rating among voters in general is -20 (31% vs 51%). No wonder the Conservatives are beginning to think they can win the next election.

How can we explain the difference? Are Labour voters just harder to please? Don't be silly. For one, Sunak's "record" of "delivery", such as the UK's entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, has focused on crowd pleasers for the Conservative base. The more he's able to pass off the "advantages" of Brexit, attack refugees and trans people, the happier Tory support will be. Though, as the pollsters show, everyone else are not so easily impressed. Starmer on the other hand has done practically nothing, apart from occasionally saying nice things about trade unions. In recent days, we've seen Starmer capitulate to the gender police on trans rights, repeat that public services can look forward to more reform as opposed to more money, has flailed miserably on asylum, and is acting as if Labour voters shouldn't be cultivated, let alone inspired.

There is some logic to this. Albeit a flawed one. Going back to Tony Blair, there is a theory that Labour only earns a hearing if it publicly gets itself into lathers of self-hatred. By distancing the party from anything that seems distinctively Labourist can it hope to win voters over. This typically involves the ritualistic bashing of the left, and eternal vigilance lest they stage a comeback. The big Labour poll leads supposedly prove this contention. I.e. In the wake of the Tories' spectacular implosion, former Tory voters have only turned to Labour precisely because the attacks on Corbyn et al have demonstrated Starmer's "credibility". Possibly, but even these people expect Labour to offer something more than managerialist vibes. They want to know that Labour are going to fix the issues Sunak avoids mentioning, and offer a different way of doing things. Not the same old rubbish in a red rosette.

As I've long argued, alienating loyal Labour voters - particularly the new base built during the Corbyn years - is anything but clever clever politics. Assuming things stay as they are and Starmer's vow of silence on things like hope, making life better, and ensuring people have enough money to live on doesn't change, hoping Labour are going to win by default because these supporters have nowhere else to go smacks of entitlement and little to no understanding of what this base is about. If Starmer persists with his authoritarian rubbish, some might conclude Labour have it in the bag anyway and therefore support the Liberal Democrats or the Greens at the next election. Not enough to endow them with shedloads of MPs, but it could be enough to make a difference in the key marginals. Because one thing the "worst result since 1935" rubbish misses is how Labour's vote tally was relatively healthy (for a losing party), but one that was poorly distributed where FPTP constituencies were concerned. Since then, Covid, the cost of living crisis, appalling house prices and spiralling rents suggest that support is now more geographically dispersed. If Labour is serious about winning, does it really want to alienate this key growing constituency? If the supporters' ratings of Starmer are anything to go by, they're annoyed at present. But how long before ignoring and shafting them turns into antipathy?

Europe is awash with lessons from centre left parties that have sacrificed their base. Only a few have been half-way successful in getting a new one. As we mark three years of Starmer's leadership, the political game he's playing appears bent on liquidating Labour's also - but before it's anywhere near office. This might not matter as anti-Tory feeling runs high, but the Starmer's political positioning risks passing up the prospect of an overwhelming victory while setting in motion the oppositional dynamics to the government to come.

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Anonymous said...

If he treats his membership in the way he does, it is not surprising he is not gaining labour voters from his base. Alot of labour voters are fed up with him,and probably will not be voting for him

Robert Dyson said...

He has explained clearly: the Labour Party has completely changed. I assume it is not for the many anymore.

McIntosh said...

And party membership is now under 400,000, a fall of 33%. The same level of decline in the SNP was described as a crisis and a sign of loss of support for independence. Presumable the Labour Party still thinks like Ms Reeves - good riddance to the 200,000+ anti Semites.

It does raise the question of who is going to knock doors and get the vote out. I am not sure Labour can rely on the 'Mail' and 'Sun' to do so. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

You've done this before Phil - its one poll we are talking about, and most show Starmer doing significantly better.

Not unlike that single, obvious outlier, poll that got all the hired Tory pundits chorusing "Tories will win next time!" a few weeks ago.

Starmer's ratings aren't brilliant overall, but they aren't bad either. And quite a lot who grumble over Corbyn or Brexit will vote Labour none the less come the next GE, as the alternative is literally unthinkable.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

In Europe, particularly in the Eurozone, the issues have often been around the inability of any of the mainstream parties to offer an alternative. This is because the Euro means that those countries using it have no monetary autonomy. They are tied to the actions of the German Central Bank, and the German government's economic policy.

A lot of what is happening in France, where the Socialists and the Gaullists declined while the fringe parties grew, is a result of France having no real options on how to run the economy. Macron was clever and by-passed the disillusion with the existing parties by starting a new party, but he has now run in to the same issue. He has to try to reduce spending, and is under intense pressure from the ECB and Bundesbank to raise the pension age and take other very unpopular actions. Hence the riots and demos. He is between a rock (the Eurozone fiscal requirements) and a hard place (French public opinion). Inevitably he caves in to the economic demands, as his own establishment are urging him to, and his party will also suffer - allowing the far right to strengthen even further. The result seems likely to be a right wing populist in power in France in the next decade.

FPTP is what protects the UK mainstream parties at the moment. Although we avoided the specific Eurozone issues, we were still affected by European pressures, which led, in part, to Brexit. Brexit was the Conservatives protecting themselves from a disastrous split. But the economic problems across the globe, allied to the globalised nature of finance, means that no UK government can resolve the contradictions between what ordinary people want, and what those who are doing well out of the status quo will allow. At the moment they are holding off popular anger through a combination of controlling the media and deflecting blame onto refugees, immigrants and the 'woke'. But this is creaking under the pressure of the cost of living crisis, and the erosion of the welfare state.