Labour surges to five-point poll lead in boost to Keir Starmer as Boris Johnson stumbles over Covid and school meals

Published: 30 October 2020

Post Desk : Sir Keir Starmer was boosted today as Labour rocketed to a five-point lead over the Conservatives.

Labour are ahead in the Ipsos MORI survey for the first time since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, enjoying their best score since March 2018.

At the same time, the Prime Minister appears to have stumbled over recent controversies, with his personal ratings and the Government’s scores for handling the coronavirus pandemic both dipping in the survey for the Evening Standard.

The findings are a timely boost for Sir Keir after Labour risked civil war by suspending former leader Jeremy Corbyn. Moreover, the party’s image as being “fit to govern” has improved since he took over from the veteran left winger.

But the data will ring alarm bells in Downing Street and fuel fears among Conservatives that voters were turned off by the rows over free school meals against footballer Marcus Rashford and by the public spat with Manchester mayor Andy Burnham over Covid-19 support.

Key findings in the landmark poll include:

Labour is on top with a 42 per cent vote share (up five since September); Conservatives on 37 (down three); Lib Dems unchanged on eight and Greens on five. It is Labour’s first lead since May 2019 when Theresa May’s premiership was in its dying days and the Lib Dems and Brexit Party were both posting double digit scores. It is also their best score since March 2018.
Satisfaction with the way Mr Johnson is running the country has fallen sharply. Just 33 per cent are satisfied, down from 40 in September, while 59 per cent are dissatisfied.
Sir Keir’s ratings are positive, with 45 per cent saying they are happy with his performance, and just 30 per cent dissatisfied. Over all the Labour leaders of the past 40 years, only triple-winner Tony Blair scored so highly at the equivalent time, said Ipsos MORI.
More people are pessimistic about the prospects for the economy. Just 15 per cent thinks things will improve over the next year, while 71 per cent think they will get even worse.
The PM’s ratings have fallen for handling Covid-19 and are dwarfed by the approval of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s handling of the crisis. Sir Keir has a positive net rating, but is also attracting more critics following his call for a temporary lockdown.
Labour has pulled ahead on brand images like “understanding the problems facing Britain”, possibly influenced by the school meals furore, and is seen as less “extreme” and “divided” since Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
The fieldwork for the poll was completed before yesterday’s drama when Mr Corbyn was suspended after his reaction to a shaming report into anti-Semitism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

With Sir Keir’s allies braced for a left-wing backlash, the party’s clear improvement will help reassure members that the new leadership is inching closer to power, helped by signs that the Government has stumbled.

Mr Johnson’s scores for handling Covid-19 have plunged since August.

Just 32 per cent think the PM is doing well, down from 43, while 56 per cent think he is doing badly, up from 43.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s scores have dipped but remain overwhelming positive for his handling of the pandemic. Over half, 51 per cent, think he is doing it well, while just 18 per dent say badly. In August he scored 60 to 13.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is down, with 26 per cent saying is handling the crisis well, and 48 per cent badly.

In August opinion was split at 38 per cent each way. Sir Keir has a less positive score for handling coronavirus, with 33 per cent saying he is handling it well (up from 31), and 22 per cent badly (up from 14).

But the public are generally more neutral towards Starmer’s handling of the pandemic than government figures.

Four in 10 trust Mr Johnson to strike the right balance between protecting health and protecting the economy. This compares with 45 per cent for Sir Keir, 57 per cent for Mr Sunak and 56 per cent for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

Labour’s image has improved since a year ago when the brand values were last tested. The percentage seeing the party as having “a good team of leaders” and being “fit to govern” are up, while the scores for “extreme”, “divided”, “out of date” are all down.

The Conservatives’ image suffered on several measures, with fewer people saying they “understand the problems facing Britain”, “look after the interests of people like me”, “are concerned about people in real need” “keep their promises” or are “fit to govern” and have “a good team of leaders”.

However, the Tories are still ahead on some of the most critical policy areas, including an 18-point lead over Labour for managing the economy.

In addition the Conservatives have a seven point lead for handling coronavirus and are nine points ahead on handling the European Union.

Labour are 22 points ahead on healthcare, 18 points ahead on unemployment policy, and four points up on asylum & immigration. Ipsos MORI’s director of politics Keiran Pedley said that the Tories still held some strong cards.

“With the government facing challenges on multiple fronts, it is perhaps unsurprising to see Labour take the lead. Labour will be encouraged that leader Keir Starmer continues to post net positive satisfaction ratings and that the party is seen as less divided and extreme than it was before the last General Election and more fit to govern.