Once riding high in opinion polls and being touted as Britain’s next prime minister, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer on Thursday attempted to reverse a collapse in support with a speech on his post-Covid vision.
Starmer’s favourability rating is now in negative territory for the first time since taking over the main opposition party almost a year ago, having slumped 23 points in six months.
Several stumbles and complaints of a lack of ideological clarity have suddenly called his leadership into question.
As the Conservative government prepares to unveil a crucial delayed budget next month detailing its post-pandemic recovery plans, Starmer tried to wrestle back the initiative in his speech Thursday, promising that Labour would mobilise the state to rebuild.
He invoked the radical social changes implemented by the post-World War II Labour government, which included the creation of the National Health Service.
“I believe people are now looking for more from their government — like they were after the Second World War,” he said.
“There’s a mood in the air we don’t detect very often in Britain, it was there in 1945… it’s there again now.”
Starmer, 58, said the pandemic was a “call to arms” to “begin a new chapter”, accusing the Conservatives of failing to “seize the moment” and address inequalities during its last decade in power.
The pandemic has hit Britain harder than almost any country in Europe, with nearly 119,000 fatalities from the virus and some of the most severe economic fallout.
Despite criticism over his handling of the outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives lead in opinion polls, boosted by the success so far of the government’s vaccination programme.
Starmer has faced accusations of opportunism over his persistent criticism of Johnson’s Covid-19 response.
And his reputation for forensic, albeit slightly wooden, questioning of the gaffe-prone Johnson took a recent hit when he was forced to correct the record after making an uncharacteristic factual error in parliament.