Labour has not enjoyed a poll bounce in the immediate aftermath of its party conference despite the government being blamed by most of its own voters over the fuel shortage crisis.

Senior figures in Keir Starmer’s team were satisfied by the outcome of last week’s conference, believing the Labour leader was able to show the public that he was shifting the party away from the Corbyn era and focusing his attack on Boris Johnson as a figure not serious enough to govern competently.

However, the latest Opinium poll for the Observer found that the Tory lead remained intact. It found that the narrow Conservative lead had increased by one point to 39%. The party’s rating actually fell by one percentage point, but Labour’s rating fell two points to 35%. The Lib Dems were on 8%, up a point on the last poll.

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Despite a highly anticipated conference speech that marked his first major opportunity to spell out his vision to voters, there was also no immediate sign of an improvement in Starmer’s personal approval ratings. It was up only marginally to -5, with 32% approving of the job he was doing and 37% disapproving.

The results reveal the challenge Starmer still faces in making an impression on voters, as well as the apparent stubbornness in the polls that have seen the Tories retain a lead despite a pandemic and a series of shortages and price rises increasingly concerning the public.

Meanwhile, figures on the party’s left said that Starmer would be wrong to conclude that he had decisively seized control of Labour after the conference. The left of the party is planning how to regroup after Starmer successfully changed party rules to make it harder for figures such as Jeremy Corbyn to win a future leadership election.

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Senior figures on the Labour left said that Starmer had only secured the change with the help of one major union and that the left still held significant power within the party. Campaigns are being designed around demands for a £15 minimum wage, one of the issues Starmer was heckled over during his speech. There are also plans for a coordinated campaign between leftwing unions, MPs and the pro-Corbyn leadership group Momentum to prevent Starmer from making a further shift to the centre.

One influential figure said that there was evidence the left still had significant strength within the party that could yet cause problems for Starmer’s team. “There isn’t a kind of great, right-wing advance throughout the Labour movement,” said one senior figure. They said that, unlike Tony Blair, Starmer had won the leadership on a “soft left platform” before adopting a leadership team “very much firmly on the right”.

The latest Opinium polling shows the extent of the challenge Labour faces in turning public concerns into electoral success. The Tory poll lead came despite the fact that the public is worried about shortages of food and fuel, and that many blame the government for the situation. More than two-thirds (69%) think the government has responded badly to the HGV driver shortage, including more than half (52%) of 2019 Conservative voters. Two-thirds (67%) blame the current government for the crisis, including half (51%) of 2019 Conservative voters – and 61% of voters blame Boris Johnson directly.

Adam Drummond, head of political polling at Opinium, said: “The early data from after the conference, with most of the fieldwork taking place immediately after the leader’s speech on Wednesday, saw the Conservatives retain a narrow lead and Starmer’s approval ratings hold stubbornly in negative territory. This is despite a crisis that voters both directly blame the government for handling poorly and also blame its flagship policy of Brexit for contributing to. It appears Labour has yet to demonstrate that it would be an improvement on the current government, despite its flaws.”

Opinium polled 2,004 people between 29 September and 1 October.


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