Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson are neck-and-neck on who would make the best Prime Minister, according to a new survey–the first time the pollster has found the Labour leader is not behind in this key rating in 13 years.
The exclusive Ipsos MORI poll for The Standard was published as senior ministers were set for more emergency talks on tackling Britain’s petrol crisis.
Panic buying has led to thousands of petrol stations running dry. Preparations are being made for the Government to be able to call in the army if needed.
However, ministers hope that more reassurance to the public that overall petrol supplies will not run out will calm the situation and people will return to normal fuel buying habits.
The survey found Sir Keir and Mr Johnson are level-pegging, with 38 per cent of adults backing each of them as the most capable premier.
The last time the Tory leader was not ahead on this measure, according to the pollster, was January 2008, when Gordon Brown was on 37 per cent and David Cameron 33 per cent.
The poll results came as Britain faced the prospect of a looming winter crisis of soaring energy bills for millions, fuel companies going bust, rising food prices, wider inflation, the axing of the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit and then hikes in National Insurance in the spring.
However, despite the grim outlook, the survey suggested Sir Keir does not appear to have made his desperately sought-after breakthrough in the nation’s eyes, with his rating as most able Prime Minister unchanged on 38 per cent since June 2020, having dipped by one point in March 2021.
Instead, the gap between the two current party leaders has disappeared after Mr Johnson saw the percentage backing him plunge from 47 per cent in March after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and as the energy crisis grew.
Labour is also up six points in the Westminster voting intentions, to 36 per cent, compared to August, with the Conservatives down two points to 39 per cent, and the Liberal Democrats down four points to nine per cent.
However, just 25 per cent say Labour is ready to form the next government.
In a sign of wider disillusionment with both main parties, just 32 per cent agree that the Conservative government deserves to be re-elected.
Yet, as Labour’s annual rally got underway amid a bitter row which saw Sir Keir having to water down reforms to leadership election rules, the party is staring at a series of dismal poll findings.
They include a string of results which are the worst, or equally bad, for the party since 2015 including:
Only 20 per cent believe the party has a good team of leaders, compared to 30 per cent in October 2020.
Thirty-nine per cent say Labour understands the problems facing Britain, a significant drop from the 51 per cent a year ago.
Forty-eight per cent believe the party is concerned about people in real need in Britain, a drop of 12 points since last October.
Eighteen per cent think Labour keeps its promises, marginally lower than in October 2020.
Just 27 per cent of adults say Labour is fit to govern, down from 35 per cent a year ago, and the lowest since October 2016.
Just 33 per cent believe the party looks after the interests of “people like me”, down from 40 per cent a year ago, the lowest since October 2016.
Gideon Skinner, Head of Political Research at Ipsos MORI, said: “As we enter conference season, the Conservatives seem to be experiencing some mid-term wobbles, with satisfaction with the running of the country dipping (probably due to issues other than Covid-19), and with the lowest likeability scores for the Prime Minister and his party since he became leader.
“However, while this may have given an immediate boost to Labour in the headline figures, the more detailed data is less rosy, showing a long way for them to go to persuade voters they would be a credible alternative government at the ballot box, while Keir Starmer faces many more critics of his leadership among his own supporters compared with Boris Johnson who has a much happier base.”
Amid the heated row between Sir Keir and the Labour Left over his attempts to change the party leadership rules, the survey also showed a majority of adults, 56 per cent, think Labour is a divided party, up from 52 per cent a year ago, but far lower than the 75 per cent of November 2019 when the party was riven with splits on Brexit.
Sir Keir’s satisfaction rating among Labour supporters is far worse than Mr Johnson’s among Tory backers, 40 per cent to 76 per cent.
Among the public as a whole, they are little changed from August, with both down two points, the Prime Minister to 39 per cent and Sir Keir to 25 per cent.
The satisfaction rating for the Government was down four points to 35 per cent.
Half of adults say they are disatisfied with the Labour leader, similar to Mr Johnson and Ed Miliband after his first 17 months as Labour leader, but compared to 62 per cent for Jeremy Corbyn in February 2017.
However, on a positive note for Sir Keir, just 16 per cent now see Labour as extreme, compared to 50 per cent in November 2019 when Mr Corbyn was leader.
The percentage saying the party is “out of date” has fallen from 51 per cent to 41 per cent over the same period, and from 68 per cent to 51 per cent when asked whether it will promise anything to win votes.
Labour is again more liked than the Conservative Party, 45 per cent to 36 per cent.
Mr Johnson is slightly more liked than his party, with the reverse for Sir Keir, especially so among Labour supporters with 35 per cent saying they like the party but dislike him.
This is twice as many as the 18 per cent of Conservative supporters who say they like the party but dislike Mr Johnson.
Among the public as a whole, 41 per cent like Sir Keir and 45 per cent the Labour Party (down ten points for him but up seven for Labour compared to a year ago), while 39 per cent like Mr Johnson and 36 per cent the Tories (down from 45 per cent and 42 per cent).
* Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,008 GB adults 18+ by telephone 17-23 September 2021. Data are weighted to the profile of the population. For full details see www.ipsos-mori.com