Kier Starmer’s unpopularity: ‘He just doesn’t inspire people’
More than 24% of Labour voters have an unfavourable opinion of Keir Starmer. How could this impact the results of the upcoming Senedd election?
Lauren Eales, an international relations graduate has always supported the Labour party. Born and raised in Newport with a family full of Labour supporters, she got involved in politics at only 16 years old.
“Most of the Labour voters I know support unionism, socialism, and political systems that benefit the working classes, whereas Keir Starmer adopts more of a centrist position,” said Lauren.
Lauren sees Starmer as an intruder who isn’t representative of socialist interests at all. “I don’t believe someone as pro-establishment as him should serve as the opposition against the Conservatives,” said Lauren, “if you’d have shown me his photo, occupation, background, etc. prior to telling me what party he leads, I would have assumed he was incredibly conservative.”
As Keir Starmer hit the first anniversary of succeeding Jeremy Corbyn in April last month his approval ratings hit an all time low. Last June, Starmer had a rating of 31%, the joint highest of any opposition leader since polling started in the 1970s.
Despite initially being open-minded to Keir Starmer, in 2020 his inability to stand by the Black Lives Matter was a red flag for Lauren. “Whilst I don’t expect him to challenge an institution he has benefited from, he evidently has vested interests and prioritised his friendships over the mental and physical wellbeing of ethnic minorities,” said Lauren.
Samuel Jones, who has lost faith in Labour, believes also that Starmer isn’t a good opposition to Boris Johnson. “He has proven a poor match to challenge the Conservative leadership,” said Samuel, “he’s petty and unfocused from what I’ve seen of him in Parliament, it’s embarrassing to watch.”
He explained that if like the previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour continues to choose incompetent leaders they won’t have his vote.
Peter Dorey, a professor of British Politics at Cardiff University believes that Starmer’s unpopularity stems from the divisions he is creating within the Labour party. He said: “I think those who are on the right of the party, the Blairites, those who want to go back to new Labour, don’t think he’s done enough, to distance himself or the party enough from Corbynism.
“On the other hand, those who did support Jeremy Corbin are saying that Starmer is unpopular because he is ditching Corbyn’s policies and legacies and taking labour to the right.”
Like Lauren, Professor Dorey believes that Starmer is too pro-establishment to be a successful opponent to the conservatives. “Starmer is a closet tory really as it were and people would rather have the real thing, they would rather vote for the conservative party under Boris Johnson,” he said.
Master’s student Hannah Lingard, has been left often questioning, where is Starmer? “I have been disappointed in Starmer since the beginning of the pandemic. Labour needed a strong voice to challenge Boris’ lethal decisions,” said Hannah.
Starmer was in many aspects stuck in an awkward position during last year as Covid dominated government policy. Professor Dorey believes that Starmer had to be careful when criticising Boris Johnson’s government too much over its delays of lockdown and presiding over 100,000 deaths.
“It could be portrayed as by some of the more right-wing newspapers as him trying to make political capital out of people’s deaths and suffering,” he said.
Dorey also believes that some are beginning to support Johnson as, even though they don’t like him, they are happy that he’s got Brexit and the vaccine roll out done. “I don’t think any Labour leader would have done well in the last year or so,” he said.
When considering the role of Starmer’s unpopularity over Thursday’s Senedd elections, he believes that his impact won’t be as damaging as it will be in England. “I think in Wales people are more voting on local issues to a greater degree,’ he said.
Voters such as Lauren explained that despite her dislike of Starmer it won’t change her choice. She said: “I consider Drakeford to be an honest, hardworking man. He doesn’t always make the right decision, but he acts with integrity and in the interests of the people of Wales.
“Drakeford possesses the values I like in a politician so, despite my dislike of Starmer, I will continue to vote for a Labour government in Wales.”
Dorey believed that though Starmer may be a factor in the back of people’s minds during the upcoming Senedd polls, his impact may be felt much more in the next general elections.
“In the general elections, I will likely consider another left-wing alternative,” said Lauren, “whilst I am against splitting the vote, I am interested in the Green Party and will research their policies to see if they’re a plausible option.”
Professor Dorey believes that as Starmer’s policies aren’t clear yet, people are judging him purely off his personality, style of leadership and how he conducts himself. “He is very good at criticising Boris Johnson’s question time, forensically examining his stance, in the persistence of his answers, but beyond that voters don’t really know what Starmer believes in.’
Dorey argues that as the last year has been dominated by Covid-19, Starmer has not been able to develop his policies and areas of focus. Explaining why voters like Lauren find it very hard to understand what the politician message or vision for Labour is.
Lauren believes that it’s not too late for Starmer to redeem himself. “He needs to take a hard stance against the Conservative party and policies that aren’t in the interest of Labour supporters and demonstrate consistency and integrity in his response to social events,” she said.
In the next few years, the shared sentiment between academics and voters alike is Starmer’s need to establish an achievable, clear, step-by-step policy guide. Which for Hannah surrounds Labour’s response to the environmental crisis. She said: “As a young person, I am terrified of what the world is going to look like in ten, twenty or thirty years time. I want to see Starmer being very clear regarding the environment.”