UK Politics: How long has Starmer's sinking leadership left to run?

Labour leader Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer's approval ratings are disastrous

Keir Starmer's polls are worsening and imminent by-elections could throw his leadership into crisis. Paul Krishnamurty analyses the betting on his exit date...

"An important difference with Starmer is his lack of political base. Corbyn had a movement. Miliband was liked across the party, seen as a unifier. Brown had decades of pedigree."

It is often said that Leader of the Opposition is the worst job in politics, as Keir Starmer is rapidly discovering. Not only are Labour way behind in national polls but their leader's approval ratings are on the floor. Check these latest numbers from Ipsos-Mori.

How bad a signal is this? Well, as David Herdson of politicalbetting.com illustrates here, approval rating indicators around this 14 month stage of the job have proved a remarkable good indicator of later general election performance in recent decades.

More by-election misery awaits

Matters are unlikely to improve in the short-term. Labour are 1000.0 to win next week's Chesham and Amersham By-Election, in which they could conceivably lose their deposit or finish fourth behind the Greens. A fortnight later, the Batley and Spen By-Election could create a generate of emergency around Starmer's leadership.

He is on a hiding to nothing. A win will represent a mere defence, without indication of real progress towards the massive gains needed at the next election. It will be newsworthy for an hour or two. Defeat will generate ridicule, calls to resign and talk of the Labour Party's death spiral.

Previewing the race last week, I argued the demographic trends in that constituency bode well for Boris Johnson, having hoovered up the not insignificant far-right vote. That is even more relevant now that Paul Halloran, the far-right Heavy Woollen District Independent candidate, isn't running. The Tories are now 1.351/3 to win.

Labour woes go far deeper than Starmer

These wider dynamics of voter re-alignment are not unique to Starmer. One could argue that the fates of Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband were always doomed due to the same demographic and regional trends. There is a danger of overestimating the effect of a frontman amid an era in which voters are re-aligning across Western democracies along clearly visible, demographic and value-driven lines.

However Starmer has problems that didn't apply to his predecessors. After 11 years of Tory rule, as they become more strident and less accountable than ever, the sense of urgency among opponents grows greater by the hour. With boundary changes, voter ID laws and perhaps different voting systems on the way, it seems ever harder to imagine another Labour government. I'm sceptical of ever seeing another.

Burnham in pole position to succeed

Parties fade, lose relevance, get usurped. See Labour in Scotland. Panic could soon break out. The clamour for Andy Burnham to take over is rising and he's now clear favourite to be Next Labour Leader at odds of 4.216/5

At this stage though, the Burnham hype is just a talking point. He would need to become an MP, and therefore resign as Greater Manchester Mayor, to stand in a leadership contest. Possible after serving Manchester for a couple more years, but very hard to arrange at short notice and probably disadvantageous for all concerned.

Were such events to unravel now, Labour would look divided and self-obsessed. Burnham would look cynical, leaving Manchester so soon after his re-election and opponents would make hay, accusing all of 'playing politics'.

Labour leaders famously hard to remove

The party has no pedigree for regicide. When MPs tried to remove Corbyn in late 2016, the members overwhelmingly backed him. There was never any appetite for dumping Gordon Brown, despite their heading for defeat and rivals being on manoeuvres.

An important difference with Starmer is his lack of political base. Corbyn had a movement. Miliband was liked across the party, seen as a unifier. Brown had decades of pedigree and an army of allies in parliament.

Starmer, in contrast, only became an MP in 2015, has been at the heart of all Labour disasters since, has made bitter enemies on the Left of the party, and shows little sign of engaging younger voters - Labour's new base.

I don't know of any realistic logistics by which Starmer would be removed. A direct leadership challenge doesn't look likely to happen or succeed. He would have to resign, presumably after being told he'd lost the support of MPs.

Not a likely scenario, but possible given the circumstances. I'm not sure that progressive Britain can take three more years of daily humiliation, certain to be compounded at the next election, before thinking about alternatives.

Were he to leave early, I'd look towards current MPs rather than Burnham. Lisa Nandy 11.010/1 is bound to be a contender whenever the leadership comes up again. Yvette Cooper 17.016/1
remains very popular with MPs. So too Ed Miliband 60.059/1. Becoming leader might help either save their Red Wall seats, although picking them would equally carry the risk of ultra humiliation.

Back Starmer to leave in 2023

Our market on the Year Keir Starmer is Replaced as Labour Leader implies a 20% chance about 2021. That's far too high in my view. 2024 or later is a 2.35/4 chance or 44%. For my money, 5.24/1 about 2023 is the bet. This covers both an early election, which would make sense given Tory dominance and, if not, a year for Labour to act to try and avoid another disaster.


Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


UK - Party Leaders: UK - Party Leaders (Year Keir Starmer replaced as Labour Leader)

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Wednesday 14 December, 5.00pm

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