Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is trailing Boris Johnson as the British public’s preferred prime minister by 17 percentage points, according to a new poll.

Sir Keir had started to close the gap in April, pollsters Opimium said, but in a survey held on 13 and 14 May, he garnered just 23% support as preferred prime minister.

This was a fall of six points, while Mr Johnson saw his popularity climb by eight points to 40%.

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Starmer ‘up to it’ as Labour leader – Miliband

Only 29% of voters think Sir Keir looks like a prime minister in waiting, including 48% of people who voted Labour in 2019’s general election.

But a third of those 2019 Labour voters now want Sir Keir to resign as party leader after mixed results in last week’s elections – including a previously unthinkable by-election defeat in the traditionally safe seat of Hartlepool.

Adam Drummond, Opinium’s head of political polling, said: “Keir Starmer’s ratings have taken a tumble as Labour voters begin to fear that he isn’t the one to lead the party back to power.

“The Labour leader has taken a significant fall across all metrics in the last two weeks, particularly being a strong leader, looking like a prime minister in waiting, and being able to get things done.

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“Any opposition would be struggling against a government riding the success of the vaccine rollout and the last time the government’s approval figures for the pandemic were this positive the Conservatives held a 17 point lead.

“However, at least then Labour could console itself that their leader was new and making a positive impression.

“Labour’s poor position today is the result of factors both out of their control and things they should be deeply concerned with.”

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Starmer ‘trying to move party forward’ – Brown

Sir Keir took over his party’s leadership from Jeremy Corbyn in April last year, and by September the party was ahead of the Conservatives in some polls for the first time since Mr Johnson became prime minister.

But that was before the UK’s tremendously successful COVID-19 vaccination programme got under way in December, something that seems to have been among the reasons for Mr Johnson’s popularity.

Approval for the government’s handling of the pandemic is at its highest since mid-April last year, with 47% of adults happy and 33% disapproving.

Some 75% approve of the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout.

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‘Labour Party has to do some soul searching’

The poll, based on the responses of 2,004 adults in the UK, also showed:

  • 33% of Labour voters want Sir Keir to resign as party leader
  • 49% do not want him to go
  • Two-thirds think Labour did badly in the local elections earlier this month but just 31% blame Sir Keir
  • 57% said Sir Keir has been a better party leader than his predecessor Mr Corbyn
  • The top choice for Sir Keir’s replacement as Labour Party leader was Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, with approval from 47% and disapproval from 19%
  • The Conservatives are up two points to 44%, whilst Labour has dropped six points to 31%