The British public does not believe Sir Keir Starmer would have done a better job as Prime Minister during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a YouGov survey.
More than 1,500 adults were asked to imagine what the UK would look like if the current Labour leader were running the country. Only 11% believed the economy would be in a better state, while 35% predicted the country would be in a worse financial situation.
According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK had one of the world’s hardest hit economies in 2020, being 6% smaller than before the global healthcare crisis.
When asked about the number of people catching the virus, 23% believed the figure would be lower if Starmer were in charge, but more than half stated the total number of cases would either be the same (43%) or higher (14%).
Currently, the UK has recorded 4,395,703 coronavirus cases and 127,327 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has faced criticism from all sides for his handling of the crisis. Many believe that his delayed response to announcing the first national lockdown – and his premature announcement of those restrictions being eased in the summer of last year – were two of the main reasons why the UK registered Europe’s highest COVID excess death rate for under 65s in 2020.
However, 40% of participants in the YouGov survey said that Starmer’s lockdown rules would have been “about the same”.
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It has been a testing few weeks for the leader of the opposition, who in March saw his first negative public approval rating (-9%) since becoming leader, dropping from a record high rating of +31% in May last year.
Starmer has been accused of not being “strident enough” in opposition of the government by members of his own party. After showing a reluctance to call for an increase in corporation tax during the coronavirus pandemic and repeatedly abstaining from the House of Commons votes about lockdown restrictions.
The current Labour leader admitted to Sky News back in February that the success of the vaccine rollout had given the Government a “vaccine bounce” in the polls before the local elections in May. Furthermore, a recent Survation poll shockingly suggested that Labour could lose in next month’s Hartlepool byelection to the Conservatives, a constituency which has been a safe Labour seat since 1974.
Despite this, Starmer has managed to gain six voting points in the polls since May 2020, which has helped to reduce the massive 24-point gap between himself and Mr Johnson’s party to just seven (also helped by a 10-point drop from the Conservatives due to their initial handling of the pandemic). A deficit that Starmer was faced with after taking over from Labour’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn.
When asked about Corbyn’s hypothetical tenure as Prime Minister, even fewer in the YouGov survey believed the economy would be in a better state (7%), with exactly half believing it would be worse.
Of the 434 Labour supporters who took part, more believed that Starmer would have been able to reduce case numbers and improve the economy then Corbyn would.
So, while Starmer is seen to be a more suitable leader then Corbyn by his parties’ supporters, the overall results will not be what the 58-year-old former lawyer wanted to see before such a crucial month for him and Labour.
A crushing defeat in the local elections and shock byelection result in Hartlepool could see the party’s own supporters and MP’s turn on Starmer and potentially result in a leadership challenge.