As Sir Keir Starmer marks 100 days this week as Labour leader, the polls have shown encouraging signs for his leadership. After leading Boris Johnson a few weeks ago on the question of who would make the best prime minister in an Opinium poll, an Observer poll over the weekend found that he also leads on competence, while 52 per cent of voters now say they could imagine Starmer inside No 10. Notably, the Conservatives still lead on economic competence.
So, what does the Conservative party make of Starmer's leadership so far? During the leadership election, he was regarded as a safe if dull choice. Johnson's senior aide Dominic Cummings has since described him as a 'Remainer Lawyer'. Speaking to Coffee House, figures in government and the Tory party are divided on how much of a threat Starmer poses:
Conservative MP, 2017 intake:
“‘He is the best leader Labour have had since Tony Blair – though that is admittedly a poor bunch. He clearly scratches the itch of those who would like a return to normal – people who think politics should be boring and done by smart people who are serious.He’s got rid of the mad people and replaced them with serious people. But the judgment of whether he has a chance to win isn’t down to that or how he performs at PMQs. It’s a question of whether the public want liberal populist policies or a return to dull politics. If it’s the latter, he’ll win.’
Conservative MP in former Labour seat:
“'I’m not the target audience but I’ve never been that impressed with him and nothing over the last few weeks has changed that. Basically he’s getting credit for being not totally batshit and for being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s hardly a high hurdle to clear.Trying to be objective and, if I squint, he’s sort of plausible but, after 14 years of government by the other side, most people are going to be, aren’t they? But there’s no brilliance there and the firing of Rebecca Long Bailey and being able to ask a few interesting questions at Prime Minister's Questions does not equal a strategy.I just find him a bit dull and a bit odd. He’s like a political Roy Cropper (if you get the Corrie reference) - dull, dependable and ever so slightly strange.'
“'I think it should shock nobody that a former director of public prosecutions is a great lawyer; Boris is an irresistible politician in areas others can’t reach. It is no surprise we are in the position we’re in, which is that I haven’t met a single voter in my patch who is enthused by Starmer.'
Senior Conservative MP:
“'I started off thinking he was a tedious dull wooden lawyer but as the government has been engulfed in coronavirus and the spectre of Brexit has gathered shape, I begin to think he is credible and can sit back after his first 100 days with a sense of contentment. Boris Johnson is a good time leader but those are characteristics that may not suit the times ahead – a boring lawyer may.'
“‘He doesn’t resonate with my voters – and they have such a long way to go that I’m confident we’ll win the next election even if it is with a smaller majority.’
Conservative MP, 2015 intake:
“'I think he is doing well – he’s dragged Labour more into the centre ground and there’s a sense of competence that there never was with Corbyn. We can no longer assume there’s no opposition – it means that we as Tories have to think more about how to position ourselves and to be more alert and combative. But I'm still not that worried – he’s got a marathon to climb in terms of seats.’
Former special adviser:
“'He's hit the ground running. But there's still a lot to prove. A big question for me is how successful he can really be in keeping what is a incredibly fractured party united'
“'When you're 15 years into government all you need is someone who looks vaguely competent and isn't a communist or marxist and the electorate will probably give you the benefit of the doubt. It's like when you're in a nightclub at 1.30am, you don't need to be attractive or funny, just still be standing. I'd probably go home with Keir Starmer at 1.30am in the morning.'
“'He's a problem – there's no two ways about it.'