Sir Keir Starmer has seen his personal ratings drop in a new poll at a time where he faces criticism over his stance on Gaza.
The Labour leader has so far resisted pressure from some people within his party to join UN-backed calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Instead, Starmer this week urged both sides in the conflict to agree to a humanitarian pause to allow aid in and people out of the war zone.
But his position is at odds with several high-ranking Labour politicians – including Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
The row also resulted in Labour suspending MP Andy McDonald on Monday, over comments he made at a pro-Palestine rally, that the party described as “deeply offensive”.
Now, a new poll shows that Starmer’s personal ratings have taken a dip – and his net approval is now negative.
According to DeltaPoll, Starmer’s net approval has dropped by 12% – from +7 to -5.
However, he still remains more popular than prime minister Rishi Sunak, whose net approval has dropped by 8% to -30.
The gap in net approval for the two leaders narrows to twenty-five percentage points. pic.twitter.com/xBR2WExXJg
— Deltapoll (@DeltapollUK) October 30, 2023
Protesters surround Keir Starmer's car after Gaza speech (The National)
Permanent ceasefire could currently risk more violence – Sir Keir Starmer (Evening Standard)
While both Starmer and Labour remain a commanding lead over Sunak and the Conservatives, the latest poll may raise eyebrows in Labour HQ as the leader faces possibly the biggest test of his leadership so far.
Some members of Labour’s frontbench are in open revolt about his stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, with shadow ministers demanding a rethink.
Frontbencher Alex Cunningham called for an “immediate ceasefire” less than an hour before Starmer delivered a speech at Chatham House on Tuesday.
Scottish Labour leader Sarwar claimed he had made “hurtful” comments about the conflict and there was “repair work to do” to mend bridges with Muslim communities.
Starmer insisted he took collective responsibility – the principle that members of his frontbench team adopt a unified position – seriously, but he gave no indication he was about to sack those who had spoken out.
“It is for me to address collective responsibility, I recognise that,” he said.
“It matters and I take that duty extremely seriously, but I put it in the context of understanding what is driving people in the call for a ceasefire, which is in my judgement not the call that we should be making as things stand.”
Despite the open tensions within the party, Starmer insisted there was “unity” in Labour over the “key issues” of seeking a two-state solution, the need to alleviate suffering in Gaza but also Israel’s right to self defence.
However, he was met by a small group of pro-Palestine protesters outside the Chatham House foreign affairs think tank, who mobbed the Labour leader’s car as he left, forcing police to clear a path for the vehicle.
‘Only credible approach’
Starmer said his response to the crisis was shaped by responding to both the massacre of Jews in Israel by Hamas and the “humanitarian catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza.
Hamas would be “emboldened” by a ceasefire and start preparing for future violence immediately, the Labour leader said.
He insisted that a humanitarian pause is the “only credible approach”, which could see “the urgent alleviation of Palestinian suffering”.
The Hamas attacks were “the biggest slaughter of Jews – and that is why they were killed, do not doubt that – since the Holocaust”.
And, in an apparent message to his critics in the UK, Starmer said: “This is terrorism on a scale and brutality that few countries have ever experienced, certainly not this one, and that is an immutable fact that must drive our response to these events.”