The average Tory lead in June’s Voting intention polls so far is around 5 points, with the Tories in the low forties, Labour up in the high thirties. The level of party support appears to have settled down since the fading of the “rally round the flag” effect in May.

Looking away from the coronavirus polling it is now almost two months since Keir Starmer became Labour leader, so we have an initial chance to see how he’s registered with the general public.

When I write about results for “who would make the best Prime Minister?” question on social media I often get comments along the lines of “its easier to look like a good Prime Minister when you are Prime Minister”. This is correct, but it doesn’t devalue the question. It is indeed easier to look Prime Ministerial when you are Prime Minister, and this is an advantage that the PM will enjoy in real life, and will enjoy come any election. It is not the case that Prime Ministers always lead on this question. When he was leader of the opposition Tony Blair was consistently ahead of John Major on this question, David Cameron often polled ahead of Gordon Brown. Therefore Starmer’s ratings in his first few months look promising – YouGov had him neck-and-neck with Boris Johnson earlier this month, the latest Opinium poll for the Observer has him two points ahead of Johnson as preferred PM.

Questions asking about Starmer in his own right also seem positive. He has solidly positive approval ratings from YouGov, Ipsos MORI, Survation and Opinium. YouGov’s questions on leader attributes give him strongly positive ratings on being decisive, strong, competent and likeable. By 40% to 32% people say he does look like a Prime Minister in waiting.

It is a cliche to say that first impressions count, but that doesn’t mean it is untrue. History is littered with opposition leaders who really didn’t come across as being capable or substantial figures in their early months in the role and never recovered. Starmer became leader at an unusual time – the coronavirus outbreak very much dictated what he spoke about and concentrated upon. It gave him an immediate challenge of getting his response right to a major crisis. In one sense this is an opportunity – it is a large, serious issue where the leader of the opposition can show they are a serious politician with serious things to say. However, it also brings the risk of being ignored as an irrelevance, or being seen as opportunistic if you pitch it wrong (compare and contrast with the failed Tory leaders during their period in opposition – Iain Duncan Smith became Tory leader immediately after 911… and was ignored; William Hague shortly before the death of Princess Diana, and struggled to speak for the people in a way that came naturally to Tony Blair). Judging by his initial poll ratings, Starmer appears to have passed this initial test.

It’s worth noting that all the polling I’ve referred to here comes from before the sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey. While that is certainly important for what it tells us about Starmer’s willingness to stamp his authority upon his party, I don’t expect it to make much difference to this figures (realistically the sacking of a shadow cabinet minister is not often something that produces any reverberations beyond the most seasoned Westminster watchers). But as ever, we shall see.

Right now Starmer’s popularity isn’t translating into a polling lead for the Labour party, but having a leader with a popular image who is seen as a plausible Prime Minister gives them the right foundation should the Government’s support falter. The Conservative Government has two huge challenges ahead of them (Brexit and Corona). Either would be daunting alone, let alone both together. For the past few years they have faced the luxury of being up against a not particularly effective opposition, riven by internal divides and with a leader whose support was deep rather than wide. It’ll be interesting to see how they cope with their challenges when they are up against a more substantial opposition.