Sir Keir Starmer's U-turn on plans to scrap the two-child benefit cap have earned him a nickname that will no doubt concern the Labour Party as the country edges towards its next general election: Sir Kid Starver.
The party's in-fighting over the policy, which was introduced under the Conservative government by former chancellor George Osborne, has prompted concern among Labour MPs – particularly as Starmer himself previously tweeted that he would "scrap punitive sanctions, two-child limit and benefit caps".
The policy at the heart of the issue sees child benefit limited to two children – unless the third child was born before April 2017. Lifting the policy would cost an estimated £1.3bn per year, and would lift 250,000 children out of poverty, campaigners say.
While the Conservative-implemented policy has faced widespread criticism from anti-poverty charities and campaigners, shadow cabinet ministers have also been vocal about their distaste for the policy.
Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner had previously called the two-child benefit cap "obscene and inhumane", making Starmer's U-turn on scrapping it all the more surprising.
While it's not clear where the nickname originated, a number of Twitter accounts closely associated with Jeremy Corbyn, and who have been heavily critical of Starmer's leadership, were quick to comment on the trend.
On Tuesday morning, the phrase was referenced by Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain.
That followed Labour North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll's appearance on BBC Newsnight the night before in which he also referenced 'Sir Kid Starver'.
Driscoll – who has been blocked from being Labour’s representative to contest the North East mayoralty – later resigned from the party and announced his intention to stand as an independent mayor.
— Fintan McCarthy (@MccarthyFintan) July 18, 2023
In his resignation letter to Starmer, Driscoll said: "You've U-turned on so many promises: £28 billion to tackle the climate emergency, free school meals, ending university tuition fees, reversing NHS privatisation; in fact, a list of broken promises too long to repeat in this letter."
The Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, also shared an open letter he had written to Starmer, in which he branded the two-child benefit policy "cruel".
"As someone who grew up in a large family I know how difficult it can be. As a party we must put tackling child poverty at the heart of everything we do. Scrapping the two child limit would lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, it's that simple," he said.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell also shared his dismay at Starmer's U-turn, tweeting: "It’s pretty clear that we now need an honest & fundamental discussion in the Labour Party about child poverty, it’s causes & the impact of the policies introduced by the Tories, including the 2 child limit, because it’s obvious some in the party don’t fully appreciate its impact."
“Sir Kid Starver” is now the number 4 trending topic on Twitter.
It’s in danger of sticking. https://t.co/Eal6Cesoqy
— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) July 17, 2023
According to recent YouGov polling, Starmer's approval rating has fallen – with just 34% of people saying they believe Starmer is doing well as Labour leader, compared with 45% who believe he is doing badly, while his approval rating in the 'Red Wall' of former Labour strongholds won by the Conservatives in 2019 fell to its lowest levels this year, a poll from Redfield and Wilson strategies showed in May.
However, Labour is still enjoying remarkably strong polling – with a voting intention poll from Ipsos Mori in June showing Labour with 47% (a change of +3), the Conservative Party with 25% (-3), Liberal Democrats 13% (nc), Green Party 8% (+2).
That said, Starmer's position on child benefit appears to be deepening fissures within the party and risks further alienating the left-wing if he fails to pledge to overturn unpopular Conservative policies in future.