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Friday, 4 September 2020

Should we be impressed by Starmer's approval ratings?

This article was made possible by our Patreon supporters! Special thanks in particular go to our amazing $5 supporters:

Alan Spence, Alex Wilson, Bert Rothkugel, Chloe Hopkins, Josuke Higashikata, Patrick Lefevre, Pawel Kaczmarski, Scott Folan, sn , Stephen Kaar and Ville Forsman 

To support Stats for Lefties on Patreon from as little as $2 a month, visit www.patreon.com/LeftieStats

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Since Keir Starmer became Leader of the Labour Party, both he and the Labour Party have seen their poll ratings increase. Keir Starmer's approval ratings, in particular, are often cited by his supporters, as are the polls that show Starmer ahead when voters are asked who would be the best Prime Minister. In response, Starmer's critics often point out that Labour is still behind in the polls, and that - on average - Starmer is still behind in best PM polling.

In terms of voting intention, Labour remains 6pts behind the Conservatives on average - although that is a significant improvement for Labour compared the 20pt lead that the Conservatives had in April.


So what do Starmer's approval ratings tell us? In this article I'll analyse Starmer's approval ratings and his best PM polling to try and understand whether we should be impressed by Starmer's approval ratings.

Net ratings

Before we begin, let me just explain what I mean by net approval ratings.

The net rating is the difference between the approve percentage and the disapprove percentage.

So if 41% approve, and 40% disapprove, the net rating is +1.

Meanwhile, if 35% approve and 39% disapprove, the net rating is -4.

Background

The last two Labour Leaders consistently performed poorly in approval rating polls. For most of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, a majority of voters disapproved of his leadership, with Corbyn achieving positive net ratings only once (in July 2017). Corbyn's highest net approval rating was +4 (July 2017) whilst his lowest net approval was -51 (June 2019).

Ed Miliband, meanwhile, only achieved positive approval ratings in September and October 2010; he never achieved positive approval ratings ever again. Miliband's highest net approval was +12 (October 2010) whilst his lowest net approval was -46 (November 2014).

In terms of Best Prime Minister polling, the last time that a Labour Leader was ahead of a Tory Leader (on average) in best PM polling was in December 2008, when Gordon Brown was 3pts ahead of David Cameron. Ed Miliband never averaged within 8pts of David Cameron, whilst Jeremy Corbyn at his best polled 1pt behind Theresa May (in October 2017 and May 2019).

Keir Starmer's approval ratings

So, considering this context, how is Keir doing?

In August 2020, Keir Starmer's average approval ratings were as follows (changes since July):


Approve 40% (-1), Disapprove 26% (+1), Don't Know / Neither 35% (+1)

Starmer's net rating was +14, down from +16 last month. Although this is his lowest net rating since April, it's still far better than anything ever achieved by Jeremy Corbyn.

Over a third of voters (35%) either responded Don't Know or said that they neither approved nor disapproved of Starmer. Given that Starmer has been Leader for over five months, this is a surprisingly high number of people with no opinion.

Some of Starmer's critics have argued that many of these undecided voters will form a negative opinion of him as time goes on; however, so far this doesn't appear to be happening. Since April, the percentage of voters with no opinion of Starmer has declined from 50% to 35% (-15) but Starmer's net approval rating has actually increased from +12 to +14.


It is worth emphasising, however, that - whilst Starmer's net ratings are impressive - the percentage approving of him is consistently less than the percentage who approve of Boris Johnson. This may go some way towards explaining how Labour is 6pts behind in the polls despite Starmer's +14 net approval rating.


In November 1994 - five months after Tony Blair became Leader - an Ipsos MORI poll showed that 41% of voters were satisfied with Blair (a net rating of +21) whilst just 23% were satisfied with John Major (a net rating of -43). Blair was not only popular in net terms, but was also popular when compared to John Major. This almost certainly contributed to the 31pt poll lead that Labour achieved in an Ipsos MORI poll in November 1994.


For comparison, in August 2020, 40% of voters approved of Keir Starmer on average (a net rating of +14). But unlike in the 1990s, when Major was unpopular, an astonishing 41% of voters still approve of Boris Johnson (a net rating of -4). In the 1990s, the Labour Leader was massively more popular than the Tory Leader. That simply isn't the case today. Instead, the two Leaders are evenly matched in terms of approval.

This matters because the 2024 election will not be a referendum on whether people approve or disapprove of Starmer. It will be a choice between two parties and two party Leaders, and if voters approve of Starmer but prefer Boris Johnson, then we'll lose.

Having said that, Starmer has substantially improved his approval percentage relative to Boris Johnson's over the last few months. Hopefully this will improve even further over the next few years.

Approval vs Favourability

One thing that is notable about Starmer's approval ratings is that there is a sizeable gap between voters' perceptions of his performance as Leader (i.e. if he's doing well/badly) and whether voters feel favourably towards him.

The graph below shows the monthly averages of polls that measured perceptions of Starmer's job performance and polls that asked about favourability.

For job performance polling, I included polls that asked voters whether:

  • They think Starmer is doing well/badly
  • They approve/disapprove of Starmer's performance
  • They are satisfied/dissatisfied with Starmer's performance


As you can see, there is an increasingly large gap between perceptions of Starmer's job performance (where his net rating is +19) and his favourability rating (where his net rating is +7). Starmer's favourability rating (36%) far more closely resembles Labour's voting intention (37%) than his approval rating (42%).

There are thus a notable number of voters who approve of the job that Starmer is doing as Labour Leader, but who don't actually like him, don't think that he'd be the best Prime Minister and won't vote for his party. In my view, this matters because if Tory voters think that our Leader is doing well, but don't like him, don't think that he'd be the best PM and don't want his party to win, then they aren't going to vote for us.

Interestingly, this gap between favourability and approval does not appear to be affecting Boris Johnson; his favourability and approval in August were virtually identical.


Meanwhile, whereas more voters approve of Starmer's job performance (42%) than Boris Johnson's (40%), Boris Johnson has a clear lead in favourability ratings (42% feel favourably towards Boris Johnson, but just 36% feel favourably towards Starmer).

However, it should still be noted that Starmer's favourability rating is still positive. For comparison, Jeremy Corbyn's favourability rating was -45 in April. So whilst there is a gap between his approval ratings and his favourability ratings, his favourability ratings are a massive improvement compared to Corbyn's.

Best Prime Minister polls

In recent weeks, Keir Starmer has polled ahead of Boris Johnson in some polls that asked voters who would make the best Prime Minister, although many other polls still show him behind. On average, Starmer is now just 4pts behind Boris Johnson in Best PM polling - a significant improvement from April 2020, when he was 24pts behind.


Starmer's achievement is certainly impressive, but the argument that Starmer is massively more popular than the Labour Party seems particularly strange in the context of these numbers, given that:

a) Starmer (33%) is averaging less in Best PM polls than Labour (37%) is averaging in polls

b) Boris Johnson's average lead in Best PM polls (4pts) is not that much smaller than the Conservative Party's average lead in voting intention polls (6pts)

The graph below shows Starmer's Best PM average and Labour's polling average since Starmer became Leader. Rather than being massively more popular than his party, the polls would suggest that Starmer and Labour are largely as popular as each other.


Conclusion

So, in summary:

  • Keir Starmer's average Best PM polling has risen from 22% to 33% (+11) since April, with Boris Johnson's lead falling from 24pts to 4pts
  • Keir Starmer has had a positive approval rating for 5 months in a row, something that neither Corbyn nor Miliband ever achieved

However...

  • Boris Johnson is still ahead on average in Best PM polling
  • The percentage who approve of Keir Starmer (40%) is still less than the percentage who approve of Boris Johnson (41%) and Boris Johnson remains popular with over 40% of voters
  • Despite Keir Starmer's approval ratings, Labour is still behind in the polls by 6pts on average

If the general election was tomorrow, one might consider these numbers to be disappointing. After all, Starmer is polling behind Boris Johnson and Labour is polling behind the Tories. If the election was held tomorrow, we would probably lose.

But with four years to go until the next election, Keir Starmer has plenty of time to improve both his and Labour's polling even further. If this is how the polls look after just five months, I would be very surprised if Labour and Starmer are not ahead in the polls on average by the end of 2020.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Local, devolved and regional elections, 2021: a preview

This article was made possible by our Patreon supporters! Special thanks in particular go to our amazing $5 supporters: Alan Spence, Alex Wilson, Bert Rothkugel, Chloe Hopkins, Harry Jackson, Josuke Higashikata, Patrick Lefevre, Pawel Kaczmarski, Scott Folan, sn, Stephen Kaar, Ville Forsman

To support Stats for Lefties on Patreon from $2 a month, visit: www.patreon.com/leftiestats


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In May 2021, Keir Starmer will face his first electoral test as Labour Leader. Because the 2020 local and regional elections were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 elections will be one of the most packed and varied set of contests in quite some time.

In this article, I’ll explain what elections are being held, look at the balance of the parties going into these contests, and focus on some key contests that will give us important indicators about Keir Starmer’s popularity.

What elections are being held?

In May 2021, voters will be asked to elect:

  • 5,000+ councillors on 149 local councils in England
  • 5 local Mayors in England
  • 8 regional Mayors in England
  • 40 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales
  • 129 members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs)
  • 60 members of the Senedd  / Welsh Parliament (MSs)
  • 25 members of the London Assembly (AMs)

All in all, every voter in England, Wales and Scotland will have the opportunity to vote in an election of some kind – and many will have the chance to vote in multiple elections on the same day. Voters in the city of Bristol, for example, will be asked to elect a city councillor, a city Mayor, a regional Mayor and a Police and Crime Commissioner all on the same day.

How did the parties perform last time?

The previous elections for these councils, Mayors, PCCs, Parliaments and Assemblies were mostly held in 2016 and 2017. The previous results were as follows (note that "NOC" stands for No overall control, i.e. when no party has a majority):

Local elections



Regional elections



Devolved elections




Key races to watch – local government

County Councils

In May 2017, the Conservatives won a decisive victory in the county council elections: of the 24 county councils, the Conservatives won a majority on 21 of them, with Labour winning none. The Tories won 66% of county council seats, with Labour winning just 15%.

As a result, there are lots of opportunities for Labour to gain seats in 2021. Four county councils in particular are key targets for Labour: Cumbria, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire.



Labour has a real chance of becoming the largest party, or winning a majority, on all of these councils. Notably, all four councils are in the North or the Midlands – key areas where Labour has to rebuild its support in order to win back “the Red Wall” – and all of them voted Leave by a higher margin than the rest of the UK in 2016.

Unitary Authorities

Labour also has a real chance of winning majorities or becoming the largest party on 9 unitary councils. These include the following key targets, all of which voted Leave in 2016:



Labour has a real chance of winning Derby (57% Leave), Peterborough (61% Leave) and Swindon (55% Leave) – all of which contain marginal, pro-Brexit constituencies that Labour lost to the Conservatives in 2019. How well Labour does in these councils will thus be a very important indicator as to how well Starmer is doing in winning back “the Red Wall”.

District Councils

Labour also has a high chance of winning majorities on 8 district councils in pro-Brexit areas that it lost in 2019, including Newcastle-under-Lyme (63% Leave), Great Yarmouth (72% Leave), Nuneaton & Bedworth (66% Leave) and Burnley (67% Leave).



Metropolitan Boroughs

Finally, Labour has a strong chance to win majorities on 7 metropolitan district councils, including Dudley (68% Leave), Walsall (68% Leave) and Bolton (58% Leave).

One other notable council that’s worth watching is Solihull, where the Green Party is currently the second-largest party and could win enough seats to form a minority administration in 2021.



All in all, of the 28 councils that Labour has a chance of winning, 24 of them voted Leave in 2016.

Key races to watch – regional government

Police and Crime Commissioners (40)

In England, voters will have the opportunity to elect forty Police and Crime Commissioners. In 2016, Labour narrowly won two PCC areas and narrowly lost several more; these are listed in the table below, as well as the result in Kent, where UKIP came within 9pts of victory.



Regional Mayors (8)

Voters in England will also elect eight regional Mayors, including the new Mayor of West Yorkshire and the Mayor of London. Labour lost three of these Mayoral elections by narrow margins in 2017; the West Midlands Mayor, the West of England Mayor and the Tees Valley Mayor.

The top opportunity for a Labour gain is in the West Midlands, where Labour lost the previous election by a margin of less than 1%.



Key races to watch – devolved government

The Scottish Parliament, Welsh Parliament and London Assembly are all elected through proportional representation; as a result, individual constituencies matter far less in determining the overall result (although they are still important, especially in Wales where two-thirds of seats are elected through first-past-the-post).

Scottish Parliament

Labour realistically has no prospect of forming the Scottish government in 2021 – in fact, nobody other than the SNP has any chance of forming the government. In the most recent Panelbase poll, the SNP are 32pts ahead in the constituency ballot and 29pts ahead in the regional list ballot – a result that would lead to an SNP overall majority of 17 seats.

It is possible, however, for Labour to become the second-largest party again. My seat estimate for the most recent poll shows the SNP on 74 seats (+11), the Conservatives on 29 (-2), Labour on 18 (-6), the Lib Dems on 5 (-) and the Scottish Greens on 3 (-3).

A 6-seat swing from the Tories to Labour compared to this poll could therefore see it become the second-largest party in the Scottish Parliament, and this is probably the most that the party can hope for in 2021.

Welsh Parliament

The Welsh Parliament election is simultaneously one of the best chances for a Labour win and also an election that Labour could very well lose.

By May 2021, Labour will have been the Welsh government – either in coalition or as a minority government – for an astonishing 22 years. It would be quite remarkable for Labour to win in 2021 and extend its total time in office to 27 years, so whilst Labour historically does well in Wales, we should not underestimate the possibility of change.

A recent Survation poll suggested that Labour is 14pts ahead in the constituency ballot and 13pts ahead in the regional list ballot, which I estimate would result in Labour winning 29 seats (the same as in 2016). This would be enough to form another minority government with the support of the Liberal Democrats (1 seat). However, a YouGov poll conducted just a few days later suggested that Labour would perform well enough to win just 25 seats (-4), with the Conservatives winning 19 seats (+8), Plaid Cymru winning 15 seats (+3) and the Lib Dems winning 1 seat (-). Plaid Cymru would thus hold the balance of power.

One interesting fact about the Welsh Parliament elections is that the 40 constituency seats have the same boundaries as the 40 Welsh seats in the UK Parliament. In 2019, the Conservatives gained 8 seats from Labour in Wales; in 2016, all of these seats (except one) voted Labour in the Welsh Parliament elections.

How Labour performs in these eight seats in 2021 will thus give us some indication as to how well Starmer is doing in rebuilding Labour support in marginal constituencies. The table below shows the 2016 Welsh Parliament results in these eight marginal constituencies.



London Assembly

So far, there has only been one poll for the London Assembly election (in March 2020), which by my estimate would lead to a seat result of: Labour 12 (-) Conservative 8 (-) Green 3 (+1) Lib Dem 2 (+1). If Labour performs 3pts better on the regional list vote, however, the party would win 13 seats – an overall majority – for the first time.

Since March, Labour has risen from 29% in GB-wide polls to 37% (+8), so if this increase in Labour support is reflected in London, the party could win a majority.

Conclusion: what would a good result look like?

So, having reviewed the key elections, what would a good performance look like for Labour in 2021?
 
Council elections

The graph below shows the net gains / losses achieved by Leaders of the Opposition in local elections since 1993. Because different numbers of council seats are up for election in different years, I have shown the changes as a percentage of seats up for election.


Making net gains of any kind in the council elections would be good, but it would not be surprising. Of the last eight Leaders of the Opposition, seven made net gains in their first local elections. The two who became Prime Minister (Blair and Cameron) made net gains representing over 8% of total seats in their first local elections (+14% for Blair in 1995, and +8% for Cameron in 2007).

A good council election result for Starmer would thus be net gains representing over 5% of seats up for election (+250); an excellent result would be gains representing 10%+ of seats up for election (+500).

Obviously any net losses would represent a very bad result – in the past 27 years, the only Leader of the Opposition who failed to gain seats in their first local election was Jeremy Corbyn.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

In 2016, the Conservatives won 20 PCCs to Labour’s 15, with Plaid Cymru (2) and independents (3) winning the rest.

There are eight PCC elections that Labour could win with only a small swing (seven of which were won by the Tories in 2016). If Labour gains all of these PCCs, and does not lose any others, it would win a majority of PCCs. Labour only needs to win 3-4 of these elections to win the most seats, so failing to win the most seats in the PCC elections would arguably be a poor result.

Regional Mayors

Of the eight regional Mayors that are up for election, the Conservatives won four in the previous election, Labour won three and one Mayor is entirely new (West Yorkshire).

Labour only lost three Mayoral elections by a margin of 3pts or less in 2017, whilst in West Yorkshire Labour won the popular vote in the 2019 general election (Labour 46%, Conservatives 40%, Lib Dems 6%, Brexit Party 4%, Greens 2%, Yorkshire Party 1%, Others 1%).

Given that Labour lost in the West Midlands by a margin of just 1% in 2017, and won the popular vote in West Yorkshire by 6pts even in 2019, I think that it is reasonable to expect Labour to make at least two gains in the regional Mayoral elections, thus bringing the overall totals to 5 Labour (+2), and 3 Conservative (-2).

An excellent – and not entirely unrealistic – result would be if Labour won all of the Mayors that it narrowly lost in 2017, plus West Yorkshire, thus bringing the overall totals to an impressive 7 Labour (+4) and 1 Conservative (-3).

Devolved elections

As outlined above, becoming the second-largest party is the best that Labour can hope for in the Scottish Parliament elections. It lost so badly in 2011 and 2016 that it really has no realistic hope of forming the Scottish government.

In Wales, however, there are a range of results that could be regarded as good. Considering that Labour has been the government in Wales for 21 years, simply continuing to form the government (whether as a coalition or a minority government) would be an impressive achievement. Winning the same number of seats as in the 2016 election (29 seats) would be an excellent performance, whilst winning a majority of seats (31 seats) would be an incredible result – Labour has never won a majority in the Welsh Parliament.

In the London Assembly, Labour fell 1 seat short of a majority in 2012 and 2016; repeating this result in a proportional election would be very impressive, and winning an overall majority (13 seats) would be an unprecedented and incredible result.

Summary

The table below shows a summary for what I consider a terrible / poor / mediocre / good / excellent result in each of the elections that will be taking place in 2021:


Friday, 3 July 2020

The Single Transferable Vote has arrived. What does this mean for the Labour Left?

Earlier this week, the Labour Party's National Executive Committee (NEC) voted in favour of changing the way in which Constituency Labour Party (CLP) reps on the NEC are elected. In this summer's elections, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) will be used for the first time to elect the 9 CLP reps on the NEC.

In this article I'll look at what STV is, what it means for the election, and discuss what the Labour Left's strategy should be.

In short:

  • STV does not mean that vote splitting no longer matters
  • STV does not mean that everyone will just transfer their vote to other Left candidates

We should not be relaxed or complacent about these elections, because if we fail to adjust our strategy to account for the new electoral system, there is a serious chance of us winning no seats on the NEC whatsoever.

What system have we been using?

Prior to 2020, the CLP reps on the Labour Party NEC were elected using a system known as the "Bloc Vote". Under this system, which is used to elect many local councillors in England and Wales, voters have as many votes as there are positions to be filled: so in the case of the NEC, members would cast 9 votes for 9 different candidates. The 9 candidates who recieve the most votes would then win.

So, what is STV?

The Single Transferable Vote is an electoral system that is very similar to the Alternative Vote (AV), the system that Labour uses to elect its Leader. With AV, voters rank the candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. Under AV, if no-one wins over 50% of 'first preferences', losing candidates are eliminated, and their voters' preferences redistributed, until one candidate wins over 50% of the vote.

However, whilst AV is used to elect individual positions (like a Leader) STV is instead used to elect multiple positions at once - in this instance, to elect 9 NEC members at the same time.

Instead of needing over 50% of the votes to win, like with AV, candidates in an STV election must win a minimum number of votes in order to be elected - this is known as the 'quota' . In most cases, this quota is calculated by looking at the total number of first preference votes, then dividing it by the number of available seats, plus 1.

So, for example, if 304,332 members voted in the NEC election, the minimum number of votes needed to be elected would be 30,433.2 votes:

304,332 / (9+1) = 30,433.2

If 9 candidates all win the minimum number of votes solely from first preferences (in this case, 30,433) then they are all elected. However, if this does not happen, then voters preferences are redistributed until 9 people do win the necessary number of votes. This is done through redistributing the votes of candidates who came last in each round of counting, and also through redistributing the votes of candidates who have already won - though votes for candidates who have already won are weighted at a smaller value to ensure that their vote does not count twice.

If this seems complicated, that's because it absolutely is. There are countless ways to count STV. For more information check out the Electoral Reform Society's briefing.

STV is used to elect local councillors in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Republic of Ireland also uses it for local, general and European elections.

What does this mean for the NEC elections?

The immediate, definite outcome of STV being introduced is that no faction will be able to win all (or even a majority of) the 9 CLP seats that are up for election. For comparison, in the 2016 elections, the 2017 by-elections and the 2018 elections, the Labour Left won all of the available seats; in the 2020 by-elections, the Labour Right won both available seats.

In short, switching to STV means that a faction won't be able to win all of the seats simply by winning 31% of the popular vote (as the Labour Right did in the 2020 by-elections).

However, this does not mean that the Labour Left doesn't have to worry about splitting the vote.

What does this mean for the Labour Left?

Splitting the vote

In the 2020 NEC by-elections, there were at least three different leftwing slates standing 5 different candidates. This meant that there were 5 leftwing candidates running for just 2 places on the NEC, and the Left vote was split.

As a result, although 46% of voters supported leftwing candidates and just 31% supported the Labour Right, the Labour Right won both seats. Why? Simple: only two candidates from the Labour Right stood, and they both won 15.6% of the vote. Meanwhile, because the Left vote was split five ways, no leftwing candidate managed to win more than 15.5% of the vote - and the Labour Right won both seats.

Lots of leftwingers have been arguing that this is no longer a problem, as STV allows members to transfer their vote to another leftwing candidate if their preferred candidate doesn't win. Lots of leftists now seem relaxed about the possibility that multiple leftwing factions could all run 9 candidates of their own for the 9 positions. But this would be an absolutely catastrophic mistake.

Contrary to popular belief, STV does not prevent vote splitting - it simply makes it more complicated. Let's say that 40 candidates stand for the 9 CLP places on the NEC:

-> 20 leftwing candidates from various factions
-> 11 independents
-> 6 candidates from the Labour Right
-> 3 candidates from the Soft Left

With 9 seats up for election, the quota would be around 10% of votes cast.

Even assuming that the levels of support for each faction are the same as in the by-election, this would mean that the Labour Right's 6 candidates would win around 5% of first preferences each - because their 31% share of first preferences would only be split six ways. The Labour Left's 46% share of first preferences, however, would be split twenty ways.

Why does this matter, you ask? After all, won't most of the leftwing members have given their 2nd preference to other leftists? Well, maybe. But even if they did, the sheer number of leftwing candidates splitting the vote would mean that most (if not all) would poll fewer first preferences than the dozens of independents, soft left candidates and other candidates that we can expect to stand.

As a result, those leftwing candidates would be among the first to be eliminated when preferences from more unpopular candidates start to be redistributed. And so they won't benefit from any second or third preferences later on - because they'll already have lost.

Here's an example that helps to illustrate this. As stated above, Ireland uses STV in general elections. In the 2011 Irish general election, the results in the 5-seat constituency of Wicklow were:


Fine Gael 40%, Labour 17%, Fianna Fail 11%, Sinn Fein 10%, Independent 9%, Others 14%

As you can see in the linked results, despite Fianna Fail (11%) winning more first preference votes than Sinn Fein (10%) and the most popular independent (9%), both Fianna Fail candidates were eliminated before they had the chance to win any seats, and the final seat came down to a contest between the Independent candidate and the Sinn Fein candidate (with the Independent winning by 112 votes).


How did this happen? Arguably, it was because Fianna Fail stood too many candidates. A single Fianna Fail candidate would have been in fourth place on first preferences (just behind the three winning Fine Gael candidates), and would have been far better placed to win second and third preferences from independent candidates.

Transfers

Ah, but you might say - would this happen to the left? Wouldn't any Left voters just transfer their votes to other leftwing candidates? Well... maybe. Maybe not. And that "maybe" can make all the difference.

In the 2011 Irish general election, the results in the 3-seat constituency of Cork South-West were:


Fine Gael 49%, Fianna Fail 24%, Labour 14%, Sinn Fein 7%, Others 6%

Proportionally speaking, you'd expect Fine Gael to win 2 of the 3 seats (which they did) and Fianna Fail to win the remaining seat. But instead, Labour won the third seat, and despite winning 24% of the popular vote in that constituency, Fianna Fail won no seats at all.

Why did this happen? It happened because Fianna Fail stood two candidates who won 13% and 11% of the vote respectively, as opposed to Labour who stood only one (winning 14%). This meant that, although most Fianna Fail voters transferred their vote to the other Fianna Fail candidate, not all of them did - so despite polling a joint 10,787 votes on first preferences, the most popular Fianna Fail candidate won just 10,155 votes in the final round, losing to Labour by a very small margin.


Had Fianna Fail only stood one candidate, that candidate would have won 24% of the vote in their own right, topping the poll and almost certainly reaching the quota of 25% before anybody else. And, most importantly, that candidate - even if they had attracted no 2nd preferences - would have had more votes in the final round (10,787) than the Labour candidate (10,754).

So in the event, despite Ireland being very used to STV, enough voters failed to transfer their vote to another candidate from the same party to cost that party a seat.

Are we really confident that Labour members, who have never used STV to elect the NEC before, will be even more consistent at transferring their votes between dozens and dozens of leftwing candidates than an Irish electorate who have been using STV for 99 years?

I'm not.

Conclusion

The Labour Right have immediately recognised the differences in using STV for these elections. Having stood a full slate of candidates in every election under Corbyn (with the exception of some by-elections in 2017), they are only standing 6 candidates for the 9 places in 2020. They clearly understand that in a somewhat-proportional election, they cannot expect to win 9 out of 9 seats with the support of just 30-35% of voters.

The Left has to understand this too. Charlie Mansell estimates that the Left can rely on the support of around 40% of voters in these NEC elections, which would proportionally entitle us to 3-4 seats out of 9.

If that 40% vote share is split between 20-25 leftwing candidates, then the overwhelming majority of leftwing candidates will be eliminated very early after winning less than 1% of first preferences. We would then have to rely on this sizeable and diverse group of voters to rally their preferences behind 3-4 candidates without being told who they are in advance or being asked to do so. That is a difficult task for an electorate that has been using STV for decades, as in Ireland - for an electorate that is using it for the first time, it's nearly impossible.

So what should we do?

My preference is simple: the Labour Left should only stand a united, 5-candidate slate for the 9 places. In the most friendly circumstances, we could only hope to win 5 of the 9 seats (55%) - anything more is simply out of our reach.

At the same time, the Left should make it clear when campaigning for this slate that voters need to preference ALL of the Left's candidates. It doesn't particularly matter what order they preference them in - but they do need to rank ALL of them from 1 to 5.

There are three reasons for why we should do this:
1) Having just 5 candidates would make it clear who leftwing members should vote for, especially given that members will have an enormous number of candidates to choose from

2) Having just 5 candidates will minimise the chance of Left candidates being eliminated in the first few rounds of counting, and give them more of a chance to benefit from second and third preferences

3) Standing multiple slates with lots of different leftwing candidates will discourage voters from giving their 2nd/3rd/4th preference to other leftwing candidates, which they absolutely need to do if we are to win seats on the NEC

This may not be what happens. But I hope that this article contributes to the debate and informs folks about the nature of the Single Transferable Vote.

Monday, 29 June 2020

How Starmer has improved Labour's poll results

This article was made possible by our Patreon supporters! Special thanks in particular go to our amazing $5 supporters: Ville Forsman, Bert Rothkugel, Alan Spence, sn, Stephen Kaar, Chloe Hopkins, Alex Wilson, Josuke Higashikata, Harry Jackson, Scott Folan

To support Stats for Lefties on Patreon, visit https://www.patreon.com/leftiestats


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After Keir Starmer had been Leader for a month, I examined opinion poll averages to see what effect his election had had on Labour's vote share (as well as his own personal ratings). At the time, the effect was notable but not sizeable: Labour had gained slightly in vote share, Starmer had a positive net approval rating, and he was doing better in 'Best Prime Minister' polls than Corbyn.

The overall impression was thus that he had made a promising start, but nothing too unremarkable compared to past Leaders. Yet now, three months on from Starmer's election as Leader, "unremarkable" is the last word I would use to describe the polls.

As the graph below shows, Labour's average vote share in polls and their estimated seat total has risen sizeably since Starmer won. From averaging 29% in March, Labour has risen to 38% in June - a higher share of the vote than Labour won in 2019, 2015, 2010 or 2005 and just 3pts below what the party won within Great Britain in 2017 (41%).


In this article I'll examine how the polls have improved for Labour in terms of voting intention and leadership approval ratings.

Voting intention

In Keir Starmer's first month as Leader (April), there was little-to-no overall change in the polls. The Conservatives remained 20pts ahead in the polls, with Labour averaging 31% of the vote - slightly more than in March, but still less than in the 2019 election.

This has now changed. In June 2020, the Conservatives have fallen to 43% (-8pts since April) and Labour has risen to 38% (+7pts), whilst the Liberal Democrats have risen slightly to 8% (+1pt). The SNP and Greens remain unchanged on 4% each. The Conservatives' lead has been reduced from 20pts to just 5pts in three months, a smaller lead over Labour than in 2019, 2015 or 2010.

My full poll average in June, with changes since April, is as follows:

Tories 43% (-8), Labour 38% (+7), LD 8% (+1), SNP 4% (-), Green 4% (-), BXP 1% (-)



In terms of estimated seats in Parliament, the changes are even more dramatic. In April, I estimated that the Tories' 20pt lead would have resulted in a Conservative majority of 156 seats - the party's biggest Parliamentary majority since 1935. In June, however, this estimated majority has vanished.

I would now estimate that the Tories' 5pt lead would result in a Conservative majority of just 12 seats, a substantial decline from their current overall majority of 80 seats. It is virtually identical to the 10-seat majority achieved by the Conservatives in the 2015 general election.

My full seat estimate in June, with changes since April, is as follows:

Tories 331 (-72), Labour 235 (+66), SNP 51 (+3), LD 9 (+2), Plaid 4 (+1), Green 1 (-), Other 19 (-)


There's no question, therefore, that Starmer has overseen a substantial improvement for Labour in opinion polls. Labour's poll average in June (38%) is the party's highest in a monthly average of polls since August 2018 (39%), whilst Labour's estimated seat total of 235 seats is the party's highest in a monthly seat estimate since July 2019 (251 seats).

Voting intention - Remainers and Leavers

So where is this support coming from? Plenty of Labour supporters, myself included, assumed that Starmer would struggle with Leave voters and would win back far more Remain voters than Leave voters. Yet that isn't what has happened. Let's look at Remain voters first.


Labour 54% (+6), Tories 21% (-6), LD 11% (-1), SNP 7% (+1), Greens 4% (-1)

As you can see, amongst people who voted Remain in 2016 there has been a 6pt swing from the Conservatives to Labour since April. Labour has now risen to 54% amongst Remain voters, which is higher than the 49% of the vote that Labour won amongst Remainers in 2019. It is notable that 54% is just below the 55% that the party won amongst Remain voters in the 2017 general election.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are averaging 21%, and whilst this is slightly higher than the 19% that the party won in 2019, it is lower than the 24% that they won amongst Remain voters in 2017.

The Liberal Democrats (11%) have largely collapsed amongst Remain voters, losing nearly half of their support amongst Remain voters compared to 2019 (when they won 21%) and even polling slightly below their 2017 result amongst Remainers (12%).

Let's look at Leave voters now.


Tories 67% (-10), Labour 19% (+7), LD 3% (+1), Brexit 2% (+1), SNP 2% (-), Green 2% (-1)

As the graph demonstrates, there has been a sizeable decline in support for the Conservatives amongst Leave voters since April. After averaging an impressive 77% amongst Leavers in April, the Tories have declined by 10pts and averaged 67% in June. This also represents a decline compared to their 2019 result amongst Leave voters (74%) but is still slightly higher than their 2017 result amongst Leavers (64%).

Labour, meanwhile, still has not managed to return to the level of support that it had amongst Leave voters in 2017 (24%). However, its June average of 19% amongst Leave voters is still a sizeable increase compared to April (12%) and the 2019 election (14%).

No other party averaged more than 3% amongst Leave voters in either April or June, so changes for smaller parties amongst Leave voters are not statistically significant.

As you can see, Labour has increased its support by 6pts amongst Remain voters and by 7pts amongst Leave voters - meaning that it has won back more slightly Leavers than Remainers since Starmer became Labour Leader. There has also been a bigger swing to Labour amongst Leavers (9%) than amongst Remainers (6%) since April. This very much suggests that Starmer's history of campaigning for Remain has not alienated Leave voters.

In fact, because Labour started with a smaller number of pro-Leave supporters, the 7pt increase in support amongst Leavers is arguably more significant: the party's support amongst Leavers has increased by 58%, compared to an increase of 13% amongst Remainers. All in all, Starmer is not showing any particular weakness with Leave voters in terms of voting intention.

Approval Ratings

So what about Keir Starmer's individual approval ratings?

In short: they're good.

Very good.

On average in June, 41% of voters approved of Starmer and 22% disapproved, a net approval rating of +19. This is the highest average net approval rating for any Labour Leader since 2007.


Approve 41% (+10), Disapprove 22% (+3), Don't know / neither 36% (-14)

It is difficult to emphasise just how impressive these numbers are. Starmer's 41% approval rating is itself impressive: Ed Miliband never once averaged above 40% approval during the five years that he led the party. Corbyn, meanwhile, only managed to do so in June and July 2017.

Starmer's "net" rating, meanwhile - the difference between his approval and disapproval - is even more impressive. Corbyn only ever managed a net positive rating once: in July 2017 (+4), whilst Miliband only achieved it in September and October 2010 (+12 in both months). Starmer's average net approval, meanwhile, is a stunning +19.

One stat that worried Labour supporters in April was the fact that half of voters didn't know anything about Starmer. It was unclear what these voters would think once Starmer became more widely known. Well, we now have our answer: they like Starmer. The percentage of voters without an opinion has declined from 50% to 36% (-14), but the percentage disapproving of Starmer has barely changed (+3). The percentage approving of Starmer, meanwhile, has increased substantially (+10).

But, as with voting intention, the question remains: where is Starmer's support coming from?

Approval Ratings - Remainers and Leavers

In terms of voting intention, Starmer has won back slightly more Leavers than Remainers since April. However, the same cannot be said of his approval ratings. Let's look at Remain voters first.


Approve 57% (+10), Disapprove 14% (+2), Don't know / neither 29% (-13)

Amongst Remain voters, Starmer's approval started positively (47% approve, 12% disapprove) and has only gotten better. Since April, the percentage of Remainers who approve of Starmer has risen by 10pts, with the percentage who disapprove barely changing (+2). The percentage of Remainers without an opinion has fallen from 42% to just 29% (-13), and most of these voters now have a positive opinion of Starmer.

However, amongst Leave voters, the picture is somewhat different - not bad as such, but not as good.


Approve 30% (+8), Disapprove 35% (+6), Don't know / neither 35% (-15)

Since April, the percentage of Leavers with no opinion of Starmer has fallen from 50% to 35% (-15). However, unlike with Remainers, these voters were more evenly divided in their impressions of Starmer. The percentage approving of Starmer rose by 8pts, whilst the percentage disapproving of him rose by 6pts. This did narrow the gap slightly, however - Starmer's net approval amongst Leavers rose from -7 to -5.

More notable is the fact that 30% of Leave voters have a positive opinion of Keir Starmer. Given the fact that most Leave voters support the Conservatives, and the fact that Starmer was a vocal supporter of Remain, it's impressive that a sizeable 30% of Leavers approve of the Labour Party's leader.

Best Prime Minister polling

One particular problem that Corbyn always faced in polling was that, when asked who would make the best Prime Minister, voters always said the Conservative Leader. Over the five years that he led the Labour Party, the closest that Corbyn came to outpolling the incumbent Prime Minister on this question was in October 2017, when Theresa May had an average lead of 1pt.

Starmer has not yet polled ahead of Boris Johnson on average. But since becoming Leader, he has narrowed the gap between him and the Prime Minister significantly. In April, Boris Johnson had a 24pt lead on the question of who would make the best Prime Minister; that has now fallen to 7pts. In one poll conducted at the very end of June, Starmer polled 2pts ahead of Boris Johnson.


Boris Johnson 41% (-5), Keir Starmer 33% (+11), Don't know / neither 27% (-5)

Amongst Remain voters, Starmer has a commanding lead that has only increased since April:


Boris Johnson 21% (-5), Keir Starmer 53% (+9), Don't know / neither 26% (-4)

Amongst Leavers, however, Boris Johnson has an overwhelming lead. Having said that, Starmer has gained more support amongst Leave voters (+10) since April than amongst Remain voters (+9).


Boris Johnson 61% (-9), Keir Starmer 17% (+10), Don't know / neither 20% (+2)

The net swing to Starmer since April amongst Remain voters was 7pts, whilst the net swing to Starmer amongst Leave voters was 10pts.

In short, whilst Starmer remains behind on the question of who would make the best PM, he is rapidly closing the gap and is doing so at a largely equal rate amongst Remain and Leave voters.

Conclusion

So, let's summarise the key changes since April:

  • In voting intention polls, there has been a net swing to Labour of 8pts
  • The Tories' average poll lead has fallen from 20pts to 5pts 
  • In terms of seats, the Tories' estimated majority has fallen from 156 seats to 12 seats
  • Starmer's net approval is now  +19, the highest of any Labour Leader since 2007
  • Boris Johnson's lead on the Best PM question has fallen from 24pts to 8pts

It certainly seems as if the more that people get to know Starmer, the more that they like him. Starmer has presided over a dramatic increase in Labour's poll averages and in his own approval ratings.

However, we will have to see if this continues. The trend is very, very positive but Labour still has yet to poll ahead of the Tories in any poll. We will have to see what happens in the months to come, and in the 2021 local elections, to get a better sense of how Starmer has transformed Labour's fortunes. I very much hope that we continue to see improvements.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Will Labour ever support proportional representation?

This article was made possible by our Patreon supporters! Special thanks in particular go to our amazing $5 supporters: Ville Forsman, Bert Rothkugel, Alan Spence, Vincent Calabrese, sn, Stephen Kaar, Chloe Hopkins, Alex Wilson, Josuke Higashikata, Harry Jackson, Scott Folan

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After several years of sitting on the sidelines following the failed Alternative Vote referendum, the issue of electoral reform has returned to relative prominence in the Labour Party. During the 2020 leadership campaign, Keir Starmer promised to hold a constitutional convention, and argued that "we’ve got to address the fact that millions of people vote in safe seats and they feel their voice doesn’t count". A poll from YouGov, meanwhile, showed that 76% of Labour members support proportional representation.

In this article I'll explore Labour's history with electoral reform, consider the likliehood of Labour endorsing proportional representation (PR) and look at what the results of recent elections would have been if Britain used PR to elect its MPs.

Background

The Labour Party has a complicated history with electoral reform. Even when it was a minority party with less than 50 seats in the House of Commons, the party was unconvinced by PR; in January 1914, the party's annual conference rejected PR by an overwhelming margin (66% to 34%) and rejected AV by a similar margin (1).

Labour did eventually endorse AV during the 1917 debates around electoral reform and came very close to seeing it enacted - however, AV was ultimately dropped from the Representation of the People Bill in February 1918 and it was never introduced (2). Labour proposed introducing AV after the party formed a minority government in 1929; however, the Bill failed again (3). Labour lost office in 1931 and did not return to power for another fourteen years, by which time electoral reform had completely dropped off the agenda of any Labour government.

Between 1930 and the 1990s, Labour showed little to no interest in changing the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system, even though it lost office in 1951 largely as a result of the electoral system - Labour won the popular vote in 1951 by over 200,000 votes, but the Conservatives won a majority of seats!


Despite this, it was only in the 1990s that electoral reform once again became a serious consideration for Labour. After the 1997 landslide, Labour introduced PR for European elections, used PR to elect the new devolved assemblies and introduced a new preferential voting system (the Supplementary Vote) for local and regional Mayors. However, PR was never introduced for general elections, and none of Blair's successors (Brown, Miliband and Corbyn) showed any particular enthusasism for proportional representation.

AV, however, was a different question entirely. In its 2010 manifesto, Labour made its first unambigous endorsement of electoral reform since the early 1930s when it promised that it would hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote if it won a fourth term. Although the party lost, a referendum on AV was subsequently held in 2011 by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Labour officially remained neutral, but Ed Miliband campaigned for AV in the referendum. AV, however, lost in a landslide.

It has now been nearly 90 years since Labour last made a serious attempt to reform the electoral system. After losing four elections in a row, it is not surprising that electoral reform is once again being discussed by Labour. But will Labour actually support it?

Will Labour support PR?

One important thing to remember about Labour that trade unions have significant influence within the party's policy-making process. This is why the polls showing that members support PR are not as significant as one might think. Trade unions control 50% of the votes at the party's annual conference, as well as 34% of seats on the National Executive Committee (NEC), meaning that trade union support is vital if any policy is to pass. This is not a given: according to pro-PR group Make Votes Matter, GMB and Usdaw both support FPTP. These two trade unions alone hold 4 of the 38 seats on the NEC and a significant number of votes at the party conference.

In order to succeed, any electoral reform policy would need the support of:

  • a majority of NEC members (to ensure that the policy appears on the agenda at the party conference)

  • a majority of delegates at the party conference (50% of whom represent members, and 50% of whom represent trade unions) 

  • the Labour Leader (to ensure that the policy is implemented when Labour wins)

The NEC
By my estimate, of the 38 NEC members, 7 are opposed to proportional representation: CLP rep Jon Lansman, the USDAW and GMB reps who will vote in line with their union, Richard Leonard MSP and Margaret Beckett MP.

Just 2 members of the NEC are supportive (Starmer and Jonathan Reynolds MP). The remaining 28 have no clear opinion. 20 votes are needed for a majority on the NEC, so supporters of PR would need to convince 18 other NEC members to either support PR or at least allow conference to vote on the issue.

Conference

In any vote at conference, the votes of members and trade unions are tallied seperately. The two sections then make up 50% of the overall vote. This means that even if delegates from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) overwhelmingly vote for a proposal, it can still fail if trade unions overwhelmingly vote against it.

In 2018, for example, one vote saw 89% of CLP delegates vote in favour of a proposal, but 91% of trade union votes were cast against the proposal. The overall result was thus 49% for, 51% against. Winning the support of trade unions is thus absolutely crucial to successfully passing policies at Labour Party conference.

Will it ever happen?

The probability of Labour endorsing proportional representation has risen recently, because the result of the 2019 election means that Labour will need to win 124 constituencies in 2024 that were won by other parties in 2019 (mostly by the Conservative Party). That's more-or-less impossible. Labour has gained over 100 seats just twice since the Second World War: 147 gains in 1997 and 239 gains in 1945.

It is, however, entirely possible for Labour to form a minority or coalition government in 2024. In that context, smaller parties like the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru are likely to demand PR as part of any coalition agreement. Given that many people in the Labour Party believe that a majority government is out of reach for the party for the foreseeable future, it is not inconcievable that the party could agree to introduce PR in order to prevent the Conservatives from winning a majority in the future.

What would British elections look like under PR?

It is difficult to know exactly what the results of past elections would have been if Britain had used PR. Voters would vote differently under PR, meaning that smaller parties might have won more votes than they actually did in previous elections that used FPTP. Not only that, but there are loads of different proportional voting systems: the Additional Member System (AMS), the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and party list proportional representation (List PR) have all been used just in the UK alone for different elections at some point over the past five years.

However, I'll try in this section to give you an approximation of what the results might have been.

I'll be showing you what the results would have been if Britain had used List PR, as that's the system that we used for European elections from 1999-2019. I've used the regions and nations of the UK as the multi-member constituencies, as those are the constituencies that were used in European elections.

In 2010, the seat result would have been:


In 2015, the result would have been:


In 2017, the result would have been:


In 2019, the result would have been:


These results would have allowed for the formation of Conservative/Lib Dem coalitions in 2010, 2017 and 2019. Equally, they would have allowed for the formation of Labour/Lib Dem coalitions in 2010, 2017 and 2019 - although in 2017 and 2019 the Labour/Lib Dem coalition would have also needed the support of the Greens and the SNP.

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Citations

(1) Pugh, Margin, Speak for Britain: a New History of the Labour Party. Vintage Books, London, 2010. pp 83-84

(2) Pugh, Margin, Speak for Britain: a New History of the Labour Party. Vintage Books, London, 2010. pp 121-122

(3) Pugh, Margin, Speak for Britain: a New History of the Labour Party. Vintage Books, London, 2010. pp 210-211

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Has Starmer improved Labour's poll results?

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During the five years in which Jeremy Corbyn was Leader of the Labour Party, countless centrists insisted that anyone other than Corbyn would be 20pts ahead of the Conservatives in opinion polls. Well, Corbyn isn't Labour Leader anymore. So how have the polls changed?

In this article, I'll analyse how the polls have or have not changed since Keir Starmer became Leader of the Labour Party. In short, Labour has made small gains since Starmer won, but it is not 20pts ahead in the polls and it is farther behind the Tories than it was in the 2019 election.

How the polls have changed since Starmer won

Keir Starmer was elected as Labour Leader on April 5th 2020, winning 56% of the popular vote in the first round. In the month since then, Labour's share of the vote in polls has risen slightly, as shown in the graph below.


In the month since Starmer won, Labour's average poll result has increased from 29% to 32% (+3). However, the Tories are still 19pts ahead of Labour on average, and Labour's average poll result of 32% is still 1pt less than the percentage that the party won in the 2019 election.

By my estimate, Labour would win 171 seats in an election based on the poll average in the month since Starmer won; this is an increase of 15 seats compared to my estimate for the poll average in the month before Starmer won. However, the Tories would win a majority of 152 seats.


The main reason for the 3pt increase in Labour's poll average is an increase in support for Labour amongst Remain voters. In the month before Starmer won, Labour was averaging 46% with Remain voters; the party is now averaging 50% (+4), with the Tories on 26% (-), the Lib Dems on 11% (-3), the SNP on 6% (-1) and the Greens on 5% (-1).

Labour's 50% poll average amongst Remainers is higher than the 49% of Remain voters that it won in the 2019 general election. However, it is still lower than the 55% of Remain voters that it won in the 2017 election.


However, amongst Leave voters, there has been no notable change in Labour's support. In the month before Starmer won, Labour was averaging 12% with Leave voters; it is now averaging 13% (+1), with the Tories on 76% (-2), the SNP on 3% (+1), the Greens on 3% (+2) and the Lib Dems on 2% (+1).


Labour's 13% poll average amongst Leavers is lower than the 14% of Leave voters that it won in the 2019 election, and much lower than the 24% of Leave voters that it won in the 2017 election.

Approval ratings

Voting intention polls are not the only polls that have been conducted since Starmer won. Multiple polls have asked voters whether they approve of Starmer's performance as Leader in the month since he became Leader. It is possible to compare these with similar polls of Corbyn's performance and see how voters have changed their perceptions of the Labour Leader.

In the month before Starmer became Leader, Jeremy Corbyn's average approval rating was 20%, with 62% disapproving - a net approval rating of -42pts.

Meanwhile, in the month since Starmer became Leader, Starmer's average approval rating was 32%, with 17% disapproving - a net approval rating of +15pts.

51% of voters either said that they neither approved nor disapproved, or that they didn't know.


Although lots of voters either don't know or neither approve nor disapprove, Starmer's approval rating (32%) is 12pts higher than Corbyn's approval rating in the month before Starmer won. The percentage of voters disapproving of Starmer, meanwhile (17%) is 45pts lower than the percentage who disapproved of Corbyn (62%).

But how do these figures compare to the initial performance of other Labour Leaders? As the graphs below show, every Labour Leader since Michael Foot in 1983 have had positive approval ratings in their first month except for Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. Starmer's average net approval rating of +15pts is the same as Ed Miliband in 2010, slightly lower than Brown in 2007 (+16pts) and Kinnock in 1983 (+20pts), and much lower than Tony Blair in 1994 (+33pts) and John Smith in 1992 (+24pts). His average net approval rating is, however, much higher than Jeremy Corbyn (-9pts) and Michael Foot (+2pts).



One noteworthy statistic is that all Labour Leaders since 1983, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair, were initially greeted with a high "Don't know" response: 41% for Miliband, 44% for Brown, 45% for Smith, 54% for Kinnock and 56% for Foot. The high "Don't know" response to Starmer (51%) is thus not particularly unusual when seen in the context of past Leaders.

Best Prime Minister polling

One of the many things that Corbyn was criticised for was the fact that, most of the time, he polled behind David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson in polls that asked voters who they thought would be the best Prime Minister. So, is Starmer polling better than Corbyn in Best Prime Minister polls?


In short: yes, he is. In the month before Starmer won, Corbyn's average Best PM rating was 16%; in the month since Starmer won, Starmer has averaged 23% in Best PM polls (+7pts). Boris Johnson's average lead in Best PM polls, meanwhile, has fallen from 29pts to 23pts.

2021 will give us a clear answer

Starmer is certainly polling slightly better than Corbyn, but polls are just polls.

In May 2021, elections will be held for 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, 40 seats in the Welsh Parliament, 25 seats in the London Assembly, over 5,000 seats on 149 local councils, 5 local Mayors, 8 regional Mayors (including London) and 39 Police and Crime Commissioners. The 2021 local elections will thus provide us with a lot of data about Labour's performance and about Keir Starmer's popularity - and will tell us definitively whether or not Starmer has managed to increase Labour's support.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Labour leadership elections: a brief history

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Since 1922, the Labour Party's main figurehead and candidate for Prime Minister has been the person elected to be Leader of the Labour Party. There have been a total of fifteen Leaders since 1922, as well as four acting Leaders. The current Leader, Keir Starmer, was elected by Labour members, affiliated members and registered supporters in a one-person-one-vote election earlier this year; but not every Labour Leader was elected this way.

In this article I'll take a brief look at the different electoral systems used to elect the Leader of the Labour Party since the position was created in 1922:

  • Elected by MPs (1922-1980)
  • Elected by delegates and trade unions voting in an Electoral College (1983-1992)
  • Elected by members, affiliates and MPs/MEPs voting in an Electoral College (1994-2010)
  • One Person, One Vote (2015-present)

Elected by MPs (1922-1980)

Prior to 1983, only Labour Members of Parliament (MPs) could vote in leadership elections. MPs voted using the "exhaustive ballot" system, whereby if one candidate did not win a majority of votes in the first ballot, a second ballot would be held in which the lowest-polling candidate would not be able to stand. If a candidate again failed to win a majority, a third round would be held in which the lowest-polling candidate could not stand, and so on and so forth until somebody won a majority.

Of the 15 Labour Leaders, 8 were elected by Labour MPs, with two Leaders (Arthur Henderson and George Lansbury) elected unopposed. Of the 6 contested leadership elections in 1922-1980, only two elections were vaguely close:

  • 1922: Ramsay MacDonald won by a margin of 5 votes (4.2%).
  • 1980: Michael Foot won by a margin of 10 votes (3.7%)


Electoral College (1983-1992)

In 1981, Labour Party conference voted to change the system for electing the Leader. Now, instead of being elected by MPs, the Leader would be elected at Labour Party conference by Constituency Labour Party (CLP) delegates, MPs / MEPs and trade unions.

However, instead of all of the votes contributing equally to the result (as they do now), these three groups (unions, CLPs and MPs / MEPs) would make up a particular share of the overall result. Votes cast by trade unions would make up 40% of the result, votes from CLPs would make up 30%, and votes from MPs / MEPs would make up 30% of the result.

If no candidate won a majority of the overall Electoral College result in the first ballot, a second ballot would be held, and a third, and a fourth etc., until somebody won a majority.

The first Leader elected using this system was Neil Kinnock in 1983, who won 73% of the vote with trade unions, 92% of the vote with CLP delegates and 49% of the vote with MPs / MEPs. When the overall result was calculated, Kinnock thus won 71% of the Electoral College result in the first ballot.



The Electoral College system did not produce any particularly unusual results in leadership elections - Kinnock won a clear victory in all three sections of the party in 1983 and 1988, as did John Smith in 1992.

However, the system was also used to elect the Deputy Leader, and the 1981 deputy leadership election is an interesting demonstration of how the electoral system can affect the result.



As the table above shows, when Tony Benn challenged Denis Healey for the deputy leadership in 1981, he won an overwhelming majority amongst CLP delegates. However, the trade unions overwhelmingly backed Healey, as did the PLP. As a result, Benn narrowly lost to Healey in the second ballot in the overall Electoral College result.

Electoral College (1994-2010)

After John Smith became Labour Leader in 1992, Labour Party conference voted to make some changes to the Electoral College system. First, the Leader would no longer be elected at conference, but would instead be elected through a postal ballot of members, members of affiliated trade unions and MPs / MEPs. Second, each section's share of the Electoral College would be equal at 33.33% (instead of unions having 40% and the other two sections having 30%).

The first Leader elected using this system was Tony Blair in 1994. Gordon Brown would have been elected using this system, but as he recieved nominations from over 90% of Labour MPs / MEPs, he was elected unopposed.



The 2010 leadership election was the first time that one section of the party had voted for a different candidate than the other two sections. In this instance, members and MPs / MEPs voted for David Miliband in the final round, but members of affiliated trade unions and other affiliates voted for Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband went on to win in the overall Electoral College result by a margin of 0.7pts.

The 1994-2010 Electoral College was notable as being the first time that a major British political party had allowed individual party members, and members of affiliated trade unions and other affiliates, to vote in a leadership election. In 1994, nearly 1 million people voted in the Labour Party's leadership election, with Tony Blair winning a total of 508,148 individual votes - the most of any person to ever become Labour Leader.

One Person, One Vote (2015-present)

In 2014, a specially organised Labour conference voted to introduce a new system for electing the Labour Party Leader. There were three main changes made.

Firstly, all votes cast in the leadership election would now count equally towards the result, with no weighting. Secondly, members of affiliated unions would now need to specifically register for a vote in the leadership election, instead of being given a vote automatically. Finally, UK voters who were not party members would be able to register for a vote in the leaderhip election by paying a small amount of money and stating that they agreed with the values of the Labour Party.

The first Leader elected using this system was Jeremy Corbyn in 2015. He was succeeded in 2020 by Keir Starmer.



The number of votes cast by party members in 2020 was 401,521 - the most votes cast by party members in any leadership election in British history (although the total turnout across all sections of the party was slightly lower than in the 2016 leadership election).

The graph below shows the turnout amongst Labour party members from 1994-2020.