A new survey carried out by academics specialising in British politics from universities across the UK has rated Sir Keir Starmer as a better post-war Leader of the Opposition than Jeremy Corbyn.
The survey – led by Professor Kevin Theakston from Leeds’ School of Politics and International Studies and Mark Gill of the independent research agency Woodnewton – puts Tony Blair in first place and Iain Duncan-Smith last. Corbyn’s rating places him above Michael Foot, who was Leader of the Opposition between 1980 and 1983, and who led the Labour Party to a landslide defeat at the 1983 General Election.
Margaret Thatcher is the highest rated Conservative opposition leader, in third place on the league table.
It seems clear that Keir Starmer is not yet seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting by the academic experts in politics we polled, which ties in with contemporary public polling.
The academics provided their ratings of leaders in terms of their performance as Leader of the Opposition and not as prime minister.
League table of post-war leaders of the opposition
*Keir Starmer is not placed within the table as his ranking is based on his performance so far. Other rankings are based on a full term in office.
|Ranking 2021||Leader of the Opposition||Mean score 2021|
|1||Tony Blair (Labour: 1994-97)||8.4|
|2||Harold Wilson (Labour: 1963-64; 1970-74)||7.3|
|3||Margaret Thatcher (Conservative: 1975-79)||6.6|
|4=||John Smith (Labour: 1992-94)||6.5|
|4=||David Cameron (Conservative: 2005-10)||6.5|
|6||Hugh Gaitskell (Labour: 1955-63)||5.7|
|7||Neil Kinnock (Labour: 1983-92)||5.6|
|8||Edward Heath (Conservative: 1965-70, 74-75)||5.0|
|9||Winston Churchill (Conservative: 1945-51)||4.9|
|10||Clement Atlee (Labour: 1951-55)||4.5|
|11||Ed Miliband (Labour: 2010-15)||4.1|
|12||James Callaghan (Labour: 1979-80)||3.6|
|13||William Hague (Conservative: 1997-2001)||3.4|
|14||Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative: 1964-65)||3.1|
|15||Michael Howard (Conservative: 2003-05)||3.0|
|16||Jeremy Corbyn (Labour: 2015-20)||2.5|
|17||Michael Foot (Labour: 1980-83)||2.3|
|18||Iain Duncan-Smith (Conservative: 2001-03)||1.7|
|Keir Starmer (Labour: 2019- )||4.5|
Professor Theakston said: “The ultimate test for a Leader of the Opposition is to win a General Election and move into Government. Those in the bottom part of the league table are mostly the ones who failed to get into Number 10 in the first place, together with some who were kicked out as Prime Minister and then failed to get back in.”
The survey was carried out in June 2021 and reflects Starmer’s rank at this point in his tenure. It includes the loss of the Hartlepool Westminster constituency to the Conservatives but does not account for Labour retaining the Batley and Spen constituency on 1 July.
Professor Theakston continued: “Keir Starmer has been Leader of the Opposition for only 15 months or so now, so the rating he has been given in our survey of academics must be seen as a provisional one. But it seems clear that he is not yet seen as a prime-minister-in-waiting by the academic experts in politics we polled, which ties in with contemporary public polling.”
First of its kind
This is the first time a survey into the performance of Leaders of the Opposition has been conducted. It runs alongside the fourth University of Leeds-led survey of prime ministers, which takes place every five years.
The 2021 results rate Theresa May as one of the worst two post-war prime ministers alongside Anthony Eden, whose premiership was destroyed by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Alec Douglas-Home ranks higher in the ratings despite only serving one year as prime minister before being ousted in 1964 – his score is matched by that of current incumbent Boris Johnson.
Professor Theakston added: “The results of the survey confirm that notion that ‘takeover’ prime ministers have on average less time in office, less successful tenures, and are generally rated as worse performing.”
The top four prime ministers in the rankings are Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Harold Wilson respectively. Between them, they won 12 of the 20 general elections held between 1945 and 2017 and spent 35 years at Number 10.
The bottom three in the league table (Douglas-Home, Eden, May) achieved only two election victories between them and only six years in office.
League table of post-war Prime Ministers
*Boris Johnson is not placed within the table as his ranking is based on his performance so far. Other rankings are based on a full term in office.
|Ranking||Prime Minister||Mean score 2021|
|1||Clement Atlee (Labour: 1945-51)||8.3|
|2||Margaret Thatcher (Conservative: 1979-90)||7.8|
|3||Tony Blair (Labour: 1997-2007)||7.7|
|4||Harold Wilson (Labour: 1964-70 and 1974-76)||6.5|
|5||Harold Macmillan (Conservative: 1957-63)||6.1|
|6||Gordon Brown (Labour: 2007-10)||5.5|
|7=||John Major (Conservative: 1990-97)||5.1|
|7=||Winston Churchill (Conservative: 1951-55)||5.1|
|7=||James Callaghan (Labour: 1976-79)||5.1|
|10||Edward Heath (Conservative: 1970-74)||4.6|
|11||David Cameron (Conservative: 2010-16)||3.6|
|12||Alec Douglas-Home (Conservative: 1963-64)||3.5|
|13=||Anthony Eden (Conservative: 1955-57)||2.3|
|13=||Theresa May (Conservative: 2016-19)||2.3|
|Boris Johnson (Conservative: 2019- )||3.5|
The academics were asked to give their individual ratings of each British Leader of the Opposition since 1945 (excluding any temporary post holders/caretakers). Leaders were rated on a scale of 0 to 10 in terms of how successful or unsuccessful the academics consider each of them to have been as Leader of the Opposition. 85 academics took part in the survey between 1st and 16th June 2021.
Picture: Creative commons
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