Blairite scorched earth strategy

A couple of leading Blairite bloggers have sallied forth to put their spin on this ICM poll for the Sunday Mirror.

Luke Akehurst divines from the entrails that, following recent events, Labour voters are begging Blair to stay on for the next election and that he is now more popular than Brown in every key demographic.

Some of this is just plain bad analysis – the data sub-sets that Luke is relying on are very small. If we are to believe them, the Lib Dems are now scoring support of 43% among 25-34 year-olds, which would be rather more interesting than any of the facts he mentions – if it meant anything.

Previous ICM polls on Brown/Blair do not have breakdowns by party allegiance, so it may well have long been the case that Labour supporters have been more pro-Blair than the rest of the population.

And ICM’s breaks do not separate out Scotland or Wales – where Brown has recently had big leads over Blair, a pertinent fact given the small matter of May’s devolved elections.

The other point they ignore is that Blair is still deeply unpopular with the general public – a majority want him out before May and his ratings are only marginally less abysmally bad than they were before the recent spate of resignations.

This is strange because Blairites are usually banging on at us to stop talking to our core vote and look to the target vote instead. This rule is evidently suspended when it turns out that swing voters don’t actually agree with them.

It also worth pointing out that perhaps the cause of the recent drop in Brown’s ratings is that the Blairite diehards have spent the intervening period spinning against Brown to a receptive right-wing press. Perhaps they think that making Blair marginally less despised at the expense of Brown is clever. But they are damaging Labour’s likely next leader and our electoral chances with him.

As for the recent damaging events, Luke Akehurst can ask his closest political allies – the old right Labour First faction embodied by Tom Watson and Geoff Hoon – for an explanation of that.

But the ultimate problem with this narrative is where it ends. Is there a better alternative candidate? There is no polling evidence that anyone else would do better, as Stuart Bruce has previously conceded. The problem, in fact, is as much to do with Cameron as it is Brown. But some Blairites seem keener to attack the latter than the former.

We seem to be heading for a vicious circle of Blairite spin where they attack Brown, so he becomes less popular, so that they then attack him for not being an election winner, thus making him less popular and they can attack him again, presumably until we do lose the election and they say “we told you so”.

Is this a scorched earth strategy?  Unless we start hearing something positive we are entitled to suspect so.


17 Responses to Blairite scorched earth strategy

  1. Glass House says:

    There’s plenty of time for a credible challenger to Brown to emerge. Blair’s not going anywhere until at least May – that gives the press and candidates plenty of profile-raising time. It was the same with the Tories, there was no credible challenger to Davis, but the long run up to the leadership election allowed one to emerge

  2. Stuart Bruce says:

    Glass House has hit the nail on the head. The profile of candidates will rise rapidly during a leadership campaign and those who aren’t currently sure who the other candidates are will find out. To describe this stance as Blairite is to miss the point. I am Labour and will only support a candidate who can help us win. I haven’t seen any evidence yet that Brown can. If during a leadership campaign he actually shows some signs of leadership then I could easily support him, as it isn’t about policy differences.

  3. Ian G says:

    But don’t you agree that talking down Brown, or anyone else, relative to Blair is pointless?

    Love him or loath him, he won’t be leading us into the next election. I rather hope another challenger does come forward, but attacking Brown is very dangerous for the future of our party and plays right into the hands of David Cameron.

  4. nick says:

    Stuart and Glass House’s argument seems a bit perverse – that in six months someone can turn round the polls to beat Brown but that Brown can’t do the same in three years.

  5. See Private Eye front cover.

  6. Stuart Bruce says:

    Nick, my point is where Brown’s popularity lies. If I speak to members of the Labour Party then Brown is by and far and away the most popular (although far less so than six months ago). When you speak to weak Labour voters the position is reversed and Brown is extremely unpopular. I’m not sure what you are referring to with ‘in six months someone can turn round the polls’. If it is a reference to Cameron then the crucial difference is that he was relatively unknown, whereas Brown is know. An analogy between Brown and Michael Howard would be better. It doesn’t matter that at the moment weak Labour voters aren’t sure who they want, as someone will emerge who they can support. Talking Brown down does not play into the Tories hands, it is those that are talking him up that are doing that.

  7. andrewkbrown says:

    I think that Ian’s hit the nail on the head, at the moment we all seem more interested in the ad hominwhatit rather than what is likely to win us the next election.

    I suspect that unless we change our tune quite quickly (and this is much more about the leading figures in the party than bloggers) we’ll end up having either a bitter coronation or negative campaign for the leadership. All of which will reinforce the perception that we’re devided and more interested in knifing eachother than governing.

  8. Ian G says:

    Stuart, I’m not convinced that Brown is the best choice for leader either. But let’s agree that he’s one of the best chancellors in history and has almost single-handedly restored Labour’s reputation for economic competence.

    If you want to extol the virtues of another potential leader, then great, I’d genuinely be interested to hear what you say.

    However Luke Akehurst’s line seems to be that ‘Brown is bad coz he isn’t Blair’, which will get us precisely nowhere. It might be best if people who doubt Brown’s electoral appeal keep quiet until and unless they can find a positive alternative.

  9. No one really knows if they support Brown yet because he hasn’t chosen to/had the chance to outline any specific policy positions.

  10. Ian – I’m not aware of having said “Brown is bad”, only that Blair is good. There is still a strong possibility that I will actively campaign for Brown if he is up against only Meacher and/or McDonnell; or D Miliband who I disagree with on double devolution; or Milburn who I disagree with on public services issues; or Clarke who has publicly expressed doubts on Trident replacement and new nuclear power stations.

    If either Reid or Johnson run I will have a difficult choice to make. I think Brown, Reid or Johnson would all be excellent leaders and are all coming from broadly the same place ideologically (and are all more tribally Labour than Blair, which I like) but we don’t have enough data yet on which would play best with the electorate (we need something like the Frank Luntz people-metering on Newsnight that showed Cameron’s popularity during the Tory leadership). We also won’t find out exactly what their policy platform is until the campaign starts and collective responsibility is parked – I’ll want to weigh up where they stand on Trident, nuclear power and an interventionist foreign policy (which I support) and public service reform (which I’m sceptical about but which is less of a deal-breaker).

    I think the Daily rather over-estimates the influence of my blog and Stuart’s – if No10 was waging a scorched earth policy they would do it on TV and in the press, not through a website that only gets a few hundred hits a day.

    The “Brown is popular in Wales and Scotland” argument is spurious and undermined by the Dunfermline by-election result earlier this year. Reid is probably popular in Scotland too. If Wales is so important why not have Hain as leader and be done with it? My hero Kinnock was massively popular in Wales and Scotland – fat lot of good that it did us in 1992. These are devolved elections about the performance of devolved governments. What counts in picking a leader in a country with FPTP is popularity amongst swing voters in the marginal seats that decide General Elections. No offence to the Celts (I am one by ancestory) but there are as many Westminster marginal seats in the 3 counties of Kent, Sussex and Essex as in the whole of Scotland and Wales. I’ll be looking for a Leader that resonates with Dartford, Basildon and Harlow as well as with the areas that always return Labour MPs.

  11. Stuart Bruce says:

    1) Like Luke I haven’t said Brown is bad – I agree with everything that Ian says about him being “one of the best chancellor’s in history”

    2) Like Luke I might support Brown in a leadership campaign, but and this for me is the crucial point, he has to earn it and prove he is a leader. He might be the best that is on offer. But he has to stop appearing so arrogant as if it is his right. I will take a lot of convincing that he is acceptable to Labour supporers, even if he is acceptable to members.

    3) It is essential that we start to debate policies and future direction and the people doing most damage are those like Ed Balls when he tried to shut down that debate (I actually like Ed a lot, but he was wrong on that).

    4) Luke is right – very right 😉 ? our respective blogs are hardly going to set the world alight.

  12. Nick says:

    Glass House – you say Blair’s not going anywhere until May; that’s obviously been something of an issue of debate; if he is going to be replaced by Brown we’d get the most benefit out of that if it happens sooner. Not a decisive factor but a consideration!

    Luke & Stuart – you both say that you haven’t said that Brown is bad but it’s hard to place any other interpretation on him being “arrogant” and “unpopular” and anyone who talks him up is helping the Tories. I find that a pretty extraordinary line of argument I have to say.

    The fact that you don’t have any policy disagreements actually makes it worse – the public hate the image of politicians fighting over personality or who can keep them clinging on to office. I too would be happy to see Brown challenged but a proper debate can’t be had on the current terms if we’re to end up the stronger for it.

    Stuart – my point is that I think it may well be harder for a challenger (or at least the likely challengers we’ve seen mooted) to overtake Brown in the leadership election than it will for Brown to turn round the polls in time for the next election.

    As for your assertion that “someone will emerge” who weak Labour supporters can support – that seems to summarise your strategy as “let’s slag off Brown and hope something better comes along”. If that’s the secret plan then God help us!

  13. Benjamin says:

    Luke and Stuart are mesmerised by Cameron and have fantasies about a fresh faced Blair Mk 2 rising to challenge him. Nothing to do with policies or ideas, such a discussion would of couse be unseemly! Its purely about spin for them. I am not even aware that Luke and Stuart are even involved in politics, are they not simply public relations consultants?

    I have no idea whether Cameron can be beaten at the next election, but at the moment Blair and his silly band of acolytes are in the way. Get out of the road. Someone else needs to get stuck into Cameron soon, and its certainly not going to be Blair.

  14. Just as a general point, I wasn’t suggesting that No 10 rang up Stuart and Luke as part of a dastardly scheme – it’s more that their pieces echoed what’s been said in the mainstream media by Blairite sources. As they both write under their own names, perhaps they were a bit unfortunate to bear the brunt of our rebuttal here. Nothing personal guys, we just disagreed with the thrust of what you were saying on this.

    A few points on the polling evidence – firstly, Brown is actually pretty popular among Labour supporters and weak Lib Dems (i.e. possible Lib/Lab switchers) but he is less strong with weak Labour supporters whose second choice is Tory.

    He polls higher than Blair though, adding 2-3 points to Labour support. The problem is that the effect of a Cameron-Brown contest is that putting up what are seen as the two strongest contenders squeezes the third party vote and they mainly break for Cameron at the moment; however, they tend to break in proportion to the position of the two parties generally in the polls.

    Also on Brown – he hit his peak of popularity just before the ’05 election when the press were talking him up; he has been in steady decline ever since the mid-market tabloids started a long campaign of attrition by talking down the economy. Any other leader will be vulnerable to the same assault over the next four years.

    He’s been damaged by the last couple of weeks (today for the first time he was behind Cameron on “best PM”) but my point is that this is more down to the Blairite spin on events than the events themselves, however foolish they were.

    There is no evidence as yet that any alternative candidate will do any better – on the contrary, the problems seem to be a tarnished image for Labour in general (the Govt as a whole is far less popular than Brown) that actually diminishes the popularity of anyone who leads us; and the current strength of Cameron. People have yet to be convinced by Cameron though, and it’s possible that any Labour leader could turn this around.

    I agree with Luke that a Luntz-type exercise would be very interesting, but we have no such evidence available at the moment.

    I think the Scotland/Wales issue shouldn’t be decisive on the “who” but it’s definitely worth considering on the “when”. There’s also no evidence that Reid or Hain are as popular in Scotland or Wales as Brown is. We’d all like local elections to be entirely on local issues but I’m afraid we know from bitter experience that the media – and the voters – won’t see it like that.

    More broadly, it’s most unclear that a change of faces will satisfy voters – they do want a change and I think we’ll have to acknowledge mistakes along with the successes and bring in new policies to show we’ve learned from them. But that’s one thing that the Blairites seem to reject – whatever those target voters say.

  15. snowflake5 says:

    I think people should forget about any comparisons with the Tory leadership contest (or Blair’s contest in 1994). They all took place in opposition.

    Incumbents are judged on how well they deliver on the job. Blair is clearly failing as the Labour vote has gone from 43% in 1997 to 33% now, not enough for a victory, even though these hard-core remaining voters like Blair.

    We have to judge this leadership contest on one criteria – will the person we elect do a good job as PM? If he does a better job than Blair, then victory will follow. If he does a worse job than Blair, we will lose.

    The polling now is irrelevant as neither of the two contenders Cameron or Brown has been tested in the job of PM, and Brown has been subject to much spinning against him, which leads the public to BELIEVE that he will not be good. But these are just assumptions. Once in office, they public will have a record to judge.

    My nightmare is that we go for someone “nice” but not up to the job, like John Major – who cocked up so badly that the Tories have been out of power for three elections. No amount of niceness can save you if you are not up to the job.

    We also have to think of Labour’s long-term reputation – we have to elect the person who can do the job best, so that this reputation doesn’t get lost.

  16. Pollster Frank Luntz on Labour leadership challengers

    Lest I be accused of Blairite spinning by The Daily I will report rather than comment and simply advise that youread the full article by Frank Luntz in The Times. It was Luntz’s controversial polling for Newsnight that helped propel

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