Perhaps one shouldn’t interfere with private grief – but I am intrigued by the post-mortems being conducted by numerous people in the Labour Party on the lines of – Gordon Brown, what went wrong? I think there are two main political strategy dilemmas facing the party.
First, keep Gordon or ditch Gordon? Can he really recover from plunging to such depths of unpopularity? Given the increasing volatility of political opinion in recent years, there should be a degree of caution over “worst ratings since the 1930s” type headlines – but there’s no doubt the situation is grim for Labour.
Second – whether with Gordon at the helm or not – should Labour move leftwards? And this is why coming across an old opinion poll recently caught my eye. Back in September 2004 (you know, in those far off days when Gordon Brown was popular, all football matches started at 3pm on a Saturday and there were only three TV channels), YouGov had a poll asking the public to rate various leading politicians on a left-right scale. Now, I’m not a huge fan of such scales – because they strip out other important dimensions, such as liberal vs authoritarian (increasingly important these days!) – but they do have a certain crude use.
And what did the YouGov poll find? Blair was viewed as slightly right of centre (+4), voters put themselves on average slightly left of centre (-2), Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats a bit further left of centre (-15), Gordon Brown further left (-22) and Labour MPs overall at -25. Michael Howard and the Conservatives were way off to the right at +52
Issues like the 10p tax rate fiasco are hardly ones which have left Gordon Brown with a similar left-wing image now. So – does he try to regain that former reputation, which went along with much greater personal popularity back then, or does he doggedly try to stick to a middle ground which – under New Labour and Blair – has steadily drifted to the right? Not an easy choice to make!