Starmer's decision over Diane Abbott is part of a wider strategy - but polling suggests trouble ahead

29 May 2024, 20:16 | Updated: 29 May 2024, 22:45

Does Diane Abbott and the row over her future matter?

Keir Starmer clearly calculated not so much, although I'm told it blew up far more than the leader's office expected, with the mess and delay a product of disagreements internally about what to do with her.

High-profile Labour politicians like Jess Phillips are now kicking off, and televised rallies in front of supporters in Hackney have undoubtedly obliterated the party's attempts to get messages out on NHS waiting times.

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But does it move the dial politically - particularly when the party is 27 points ahead according to the latest Sky News/YouGov poll and Sir Keir is keen to do all he can to preserve relations with the Jewish community?

Possibly not in the first instance. But it may have secondary effects.

Sir Keir is avowedly determined to present a "changed" Labour Party, away from the one that held Jeremy Corbyn in high esteem.

The decisions about Ms Abbott are part of that wider strategy. There are still parts of the party nostalgic for this era, however, and Sir Keir famously won the leadership trying to keep them onside.

But there's a paradox in the polling that suggests trouble ahead. Yes, if the polls are to be believed (and many Tories don't) Labour is on course for a decent majority and control of Number 10.

However, Sir Keir's own ratings are - less than stellar.

The YouGov/Sky News poll asked this week whether voters thought he would be a good or bad prime minister. Almost half - 47% - said bad. The older the voter, the more pessimistic they are.

Sir Keir is starting from a low base - not as bad as Rishi Sunak, but still bad. By contrast, only 33% said they thought he'd be good.

That level of enthusiasm suggests Sir Keir may not enjoy much of a public opinion honeymoon, just at a point where he is likely to have to start by making difficult decisions, most notably on raising taxes.

One of the themes of this election has been the party's clarity that while it will promise not to raise income tax, national insurance and corporation tax, no such bar exists on other taxes.

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