Behind the scenes

Are Labour knives out for Keir Starmer?

Local elections in May will be first major test of party’s ‘new management’

Keir Starmer has admitted that Labour still has a “mountain to climb” as a new poll shows that the party is lagging behind the Conservatives.

The Labour leader was forced to defend his leadership after a survey of more than 1,050 UK adults by Ipsos Mori found that Boris Johnson’s party has pulled ahead of the opposition by four points. And 44% of the respondents said that the Tory prime minister was the best choice to lead the country out of the Covid pandemic, compared with 29% who backed Starmer.

The poll results are likely to increase “murmurs among senior Labour MPs” who are concerned that Starmer’s “risk-averse, carefully managed approach and moderate politics risk turning him into ‘continuity Ed Miliband’”, The Times reports.

An unnamed MP told the paper: “We’re not in the relegation zone anymore, but equally we’re not ahead of the Tories in the polls and given the mess they’re in, we ought to be.”

Meanwhile, New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush warns that “a consensus is forming among the commentariat” that Starmer is “not up to the job”. Labour MPs are beginning to complain that Starmer has “no politics”, Bush writes, and that the party under his watch “has no clear identity beyond bland reassurance”.

“Backbenchers who feel they would do a better job than the shadow cabinet complain that its members are mostly anonymous”, he adds, noting that while “Labour seldom gets rid of its leaders... it does have a tendency to hobble them”.

However, the Labour leader has some cause for hope.

The Independent’s John Rentoul predicts that “lockdown paralysis” will soon “ease and in Britain the winds of electoral change will start blowing again”. 

May’s local elections will be the “biggest electoral test between general elections” and “Starmer is likely to be able to claim that Labour is making progress”, writes Rentoul, who adds that the Labour leader’s “advantage” of not being Jeremy Corbyn “has not yet been cashed in at the ballot box”.

There is also some good news for Starmer courtesy of PoliticsJoe. Voters interviewed by the digital channel in the Derbyshire town of Bolsover - a constituency held by Labour MP Dennis Skinner for almost 50 years before turning blue in 2020 - said they would consider backing Starmer if he is not “too left-wing”.

In a possible vindication of Starmer’s strategy so far, a former Labour voter said: “It seems like he’s got a head on his shoulders and Labour’s got to work towards the middle ground.”

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