Four in five Labour members back Keir Starmer’s leadership amidst councillor turmoil

Labour’s membership is rallying behind Keir Starmer’s leadership despite brewing turmoil amongst council leaders over party discipline.

New polling by Labour Together has shown that four in five Labour members back the Labour leader and believe he will win a majority at the next election - despite a recent wave of councillor resignations after some accused the leadership of “aggressive bullying tactics”.

Two YouGov polls commissioned by the Labour-linked think tank have revealed growing support from the party’s membership for the Labour leader. In April 2023, 75 per cent of those polled said they approved of Sir Keir’s leadership, with the figure increasing to 81 per cent in October 2023, according to a report in the Guardian.

The growth in support for his leadership has risen alongside Labour’s electoral prospects. In April 2023, a few months into Rishi Sunak’s premiership, 56 per cent of members polled said they thought Labour would win a majority. By October, that proportion had grown by almost a quarter to 78 per cent.

Labour’s party membership has shrunk under Keir Starmer’s leadership, compared to his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn’s. At the time of the 2020 leadership contest there were 552,835 members, according to official stats. In comparison, this fell to 434,000 in 2022, 407,328 in 2023 and 390,000 in 2024.

But the size of the party’s membership is still large compared with the bulk of the New Labour years. The number of paying supporters peaked at 405,000 in 1997, but by 2007 it had fallen to 176,891, its lowest level since Labour was founded.

Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner launched the party’s local election campaign last week (Getty Images)
Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner launched the party’s local election campaign last week (Getty Images)

Sir Keir became the Labour leader after winning 56 per cent of members’ votes in the April 2020 contest, beating Rebecca Long-Bailey, who got 28 per cent of the vote and Lisa Nandy at 16 per cent.

He has been credited with turning around the party’s electoral prospects after a disastrous general election result in 2019 but has been subject to criticism by those on the left of the party who have opposed his position on the Israel-Palestine conflict and his iron-clad grip on party discipline.

The party has been knocked by a wave of resignations as twenty Lancashire councillors ended their Labour memberships after accusing Sir Keir and the national leadership of bullying.

The councillors each sit on Pendle Borough Council, Nelson Town Council or Brierfield Town Council, and claim the national Labour Party no longer represents them.

They claim the party is “targeting local councillors” by “preventing them from standing for elections” and will now form their own independent group.

It comes after 11 councillors quit the party in Burnley over Sir Keir’s decision not to push for a ceasefire in Gaza in November last year.

Councillor Mohammed Iqbal, who was also among those who resigned, told BBC North West Today: “The party nationally seems to want to control who can stand where and when. We don’t think that’s right so we have taken the difficult decision to resign.”

The Labour Party said its “focus is on winning the next general election to improve the lives of those we are elected to serve”.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator dismissed concerns around the resignations and said that “everybody is allowed to have their own views”.

The group of councillors in the North West accused the party leadership of suppressing their free speech over issues such as the conflict in Gaza and preventing certain candidates from standing at elections.

Pat McFadden said ‘everybody is allowed to have their own views’ (REUTERS)
Pat McFadden said ‘everybody is allowed to have their own views’ (REUTERS)

Mr McFadden told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Everybody is allowed to have their own views and I understand why people feel really strongly about this issue.

“We saw what happened on October 7, we’ve seen what’s happened in the six months since then with tens of thousands of people being killed, and all the way through this we have said three things.”

The MP for Wolverhampton South East outlined Labour’s three demands as a return of hostages, a ceasefire that lasts and a “better future for the Palestinian people”.

Asked about the departure of Councillor Iqbal of Pendle Borough council, Mr McFadden said: “If someone takes the decision to leave, that is something to be regretted, but what I am really focused on is the 2,000-plus Labour candidates who will be standing in the local elections in a few weeks’ time.”

Both parties have launched their local election campaigns as the country prepares to take to the polls in a month.

Labour launched an eye-catching website highlighting what it calls the £8.2 billion “cost of Tory chaos.” Half of that total is from higher mortgage rates triggered by Liz Truss’s disastrous 2022 mini-budget, as well as £2.6 billion in unforeseen hotel costs for asylum seekers and £2 million spent on a series of by-elections.

Conservative party chair Richard Holden called it “a desperate attempt to distract from” the row over deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner’s sale of her council home.

He added: “Instead of wasting time with dodgy websites, the Labour Party should set out their plans. But the truth is they can’t because they have no plan for this country, and that means they would take us right back to square one with higher taxes, more borrowing and higher unemployment.