Keir Starmer has said “a lot of people” think Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party “would do better with a different leader”.
In a recording passed to HuffPost UK, the shadow Brexit secretary can be heard telling business leaders in Sunderland he is “well aware” Corbyn is unpopular with some voters but that the “political reality” is that party members back him.
“I’m well aware from discussions around the United Kingdom and door-knocking and campaigning and canvassing that a lot of people think we would do better with a different leader,” Starmer says.
Starmer swiftly stressed this was not his own opinion and pointed out many of the public liked Corbyn, adding: “A lot of people think we have got the right leader but, you know, you will always pick that up.”
He went on: “I think the reality of the situation is we are in a Labour Party of 500,000 members – that is pretty amazing, the biggest political party in Europe – and we have a one-member-one-vote system for electing our leader and Jeremy Corbyn has twice been elected leader of our party and therefore is going to be taking us into the next election.
“And that is the political reality of the situation that we are in.”
It comes as a snap general election in late November or early December looks increasingly likely.
Boris Johnson has promised a new Queen’s speech when MPs return to parliament on October 15 but, as the PM lost his majority throwing 21 Tory MPs out of the parliamentary party for defying him over Brexit, it is almost certain to be voted down.
Starmer, who was answering a direct question from the audience of business leaders about Corbyn’s appeal, also suggested during the Q & A session that Labour leaders are more heavily criticised by the media.
He said: “All political leaders gets criticised and all Labour leaders get criticised and you don’t have to cast your mind back very far to ‘Red Ed Marxist Ed Miliband’ [who] was going to cause chaos against ‘calm Cameron’ who was going to steer us through.
“So this attack on Labour leaders is there and all leaders of all political parties.”
A source close to Starmer added: “It’s obvious from Keir’s comments that he was answering a question and making the very valid point that all Labour leaders throughout history get criticised by the media, commentators and others.
“He also makes clear that Jeremy has been elected twice to be Labour leader and will rightly lead it into the next election.”
According to a YouGov poll of Labour members conducted in July, the shadow Brexit secretary was the most popular MP to succeed Corbyn, followed closely by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
Corbyn allies have repeatedly stressed that he does not plan to stand down before the next election, despite the rumour repeatedly surfacing.
Starmer, Thornberry and McDonnell have all been recently broken ranks to say that Labour should campaign for Remain in a second referendum – something which would win approval with the party’s strongly pro-EU grassroots.
Johnson, who won the Tory leadership in July, is riding high in the polls, recording between a 14-point and a three-point lead over Corbyn.
But the PM has had a torrid start to his time in parliament, suffering six defeats in the Commons over the anti-no-deal Brexit bill and the Court of Session judging his controversial decision to shutdown parliament unlawful.