Why Gordon has reasons to be cheerful

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor If you were Gordon Brown you would be hard-pressed to find more enjoyable 'holiday' reading than an opinion poll giving your party a 10-point lead over the Tories.

CHRIS FISHER, EDP Political Editor

If you were Gordon Brown you would be hard-pressed to find more enjoyable 'holiday' reading than an opinion poll giving your party a 10-point lead over the Tories.

A YouGov poll at the weekend did just that - putting Labour on 42pc and the Conservatives on 32pc. And the good news for the prime minister didn't stop there. The poll also indicated that 65pc of people think he is doing well as PM and only 17pc think he is doing badly. By contrast, it also showed that 55pc think David Cameron is doing badly and only 29pc think he is performing well.

The Labour lead was the biggest in a YouGov poll since November 2002. It was probably an exaggeration because other polls have been putting Labour ahead by five-six points, but perhaps it was an early pointer to a further surge for Mr Brown's party. It inevitably generated a further wave of conjecture about a snap election this autumn.


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This cannot be dismissed as 'silly season' journalism and politicking. The polls have certainly shifted considerably since Mr Brown became premier, and a general election result accurately reflect-ing what they are now saying would deliver him and his party a landslide victory.

That is bound to interest a prime minister who is very much aware of arguments that he lacks an electoral mandate for the post. And it is very exciting for a good many Labour MPs in marginal seats who have spent several months worrying that their time will be up at the next general election.

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They know that the Brown bounce or honeymoon could last only a few months, and that by the spring of 2008 the Conservatives could be back in the lead. So from them there is bound to be pressure on the prime minister to strike while the iron is hot.

He will take a great deal of persuading, however. He didn't wait so many years to get the job of PM in order to chuck it away after just a few weeks. He will need to know in his normally cautious mind that there is no danger at all of it all going pear-shaped if he presses the button for a very early general election (only two and a half years since the last one).

At the very least he will want a Labour lead of five points or more to be sustained through to his party's annual conference towards the end of September. If that happens, an announcement in his main conference speech in Bournemouth that he is 'going to the country' cannot be ruled out. But even in such circumstances it would be unlikely.

One of the factors currently telling him not to be tempted is the popularity of the SNP in Scotland. As he is enjoying a honeymoon in Britain as a whole, so is Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, north of the border. A recent poll put the SNP 16 points ahead of Labour in Scotland. It carried the implication that Labour is even further ahead of the Conservatives in England than the main polls have been signalling. But it also points to a significant number of seat losses for Labour in Scotland, and this is a complication Mr Brown can well do without.

His lift in the polls reflects feelings that he and his team have responded well to the major and unexpected challenges thrown up so far - the attempted car bomb terror attacks in London and Glasgow, the floods in Gloucester-shire and Yorkshire and the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey.

In dealing with these events he has avoided simple mistakes that Tony Blair was inclined to make. In the case of foot and mouth, for example, he immediately broke away from a holiday he had just started in the south of England and very definitely and deliberately showed himself to be the main man in a fight to conquer the problem quickly and decisively. Had it been Mr Blair, one supposes he would have been in the Caribbean and leaving John Prescott to sort things out.

The message the prime minister has been despatching is that he is a serious hands-on leader for serious times. And it has been going down well so far.

It is too early to be very clear about the extent to which we are seeing the genuine article or a clever public relations demonstra-tion. But there was certainly something of the latter in Mr Brown's first encounter as prime minister with President Bush.

The meeting contributed to his poll ratings rise because his cold body language, and his failure to bestow any personal praise on the US president, signalled that the closeness of the Bush-Blair relationship would not be continued. But has there actually been any great change in British foreign policy - even in Iraq?

Or in domestic policy? What has altered is the way it's presented. It's Blairism without the irritating grin and the estuary English and with, so far, an impression, if not reality, of straight-dealing. It's a form of Blairism for grown-ups.

There is a great worry in this for Mr Cameron because he has plainly modelled himself on Mr Blair. It's a bit like targeting a Classic FM audience only to find that quite a lot of it has switched to Radio 3,

Mr Cameron is under pressure (as is Sir Menzies Campbell), and it could get worse for him. How should he respond? By shifting to the right? If that means allowing John Redwood to reacquire a high-profile EU-bashing role, the answer should certainly be “No”.

A POLITICIAN WITH A MIND OF HIS OWN

John Biffen was an advocate of monetarism and laissez-faire economics long before Margaret Thatcher put those policies into practice. But although she appointed him to her cabinet, he never quite seemed “one of us”.

Eventually she let her frustration with that become public knowledge when she authorised her press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, to describe him as a “semi-detached” member of the cabinet.

He had too much of a mind of his own, and didn't seem to understand the fuss (or much care) when he once publicly observed that there was no mechanistic or succinctly demonstrable link between the rate of growth of the money supply and the rate of inflation. It wasn't what the then prime minister and the ideologues around her wanted to hear.

Lord Biffen sometimes seemed to inhabit a world of his own, and I once witnessed a bizarre press conference at which he ignored journalists' questions and seemed to be a million miles away.

He was courteous and shy. And though he was an admirer of Enoch Powell, virtually everyone at Westminster liked him. They don't seem to make politicians like him any more. More's the pity.

BORRIS V KEN POLL

A new poll yesterday suggested that an early 'Boris bounce' is disappearing and that Ken Livingstone is now narrowly ahead of Boris Johnson in his bid to retain the post of London mayor.

There are big issues to discuss, including BAA's wish to go on expanding Heathrow and the future of the congestion charge.

The mayor now wants to raise the daily charge from £8 to £25 for 'Chelsea tractors' but scrap it for up to 25,000 small cars. The London Greens don't like the idea, but might it not prove a winner electorally and environmentally?

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