Bookies will give you just 1/2 on the next election being in 2024, but longer than evens on Starmer being Labour leader that long. That doesn’t add up…
Clearly the market thinks there is a significant chance (implied by these odds as being at least 20%) that Starmer never makes it to the next election. That risk is being massively overstated.
Let’s start with a simple question: How many Labour/Tory leaders have their been in the last 20 years who never fought an election? How about the last 40 years? How about the last 60 years?
The answers are: 1, 2, and 2. Iain Duncan Smith, Tory leader from 2001 to 2003, is the only party leader in the last two decades not to contest a general election. John Smith, Labour leader from 1992 until his death in 1994, is the only other in the past 60 years.
Clearly, leaders who never contest elections are extremely rare. And Starmer isn’t at particular risk.
Starmer isn’t setting the world on fire, there’s no denying. He is losing to Johnson on Best PM polling and Labour is losing to the Tories on voter intention polling. If the next election was today, he would probably fall far short of a majority (though he might still become PM, more on that later).
Nonetheless, he would be strong favourite to survive a pre-election challenge. Corbyn crushed Owen Smith when he had net approval polling of -30% or so, because members felt he deserved a chance at a general election. Starmer would be highly likely to survive for similar reasons. Don’t forget how strongly he won the leadership in the first place.
We also shouldn’t forget that what goes down can come back up. The discourse around Starmer is mostly whether he will survive, but he could succeed. The polls have tightened of late, and if Starmer could even take the lead then no-one is going to challenge him.
There is another perspective on this: What if the odds on Starmer are right, because the election date odds are wrong? What if Starmer fights the next election, but in 2023, and departs after losing it?
During the Blair and Thatcher years we saw governments with large majorities go to the country every 4 years, which would set us up for a 2023 election. And I don’t think this is implausible by any means. However, given the size of the Tory majority in 2019, such that they have rarely outpolled that position since, I think it is a little less likely.
We should also remember what it would take for Starmer to remain Labour leader after an election: He doesn’t need a majority. Given the Tories have burned their bridges with every plausible coalition partner, Starmer ‘only’ needs the Tories to lose 40-50 seats and he would probably become PM of some form of coalition/minority administration. While not necessarily likely, this is very plausible.
In short, Starmer should be expected to last at least as long as this electoral cycle, if not longer. The odds suggest the opposite, and I’d argue there is value in betting against them.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on Starmer surviving to 2024 at 5/4 and 13/8. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts