Sunday, February 28, 2010

Now, THIS would be astonishing - "Gordon Brown on course to win election"?

For the past two years or so, the almost universally accepted conventional wisdom has been that the Labour Party was headed toward a crushing defeat in the next British general election, that Tony Blair's hapless successor Gordon Brown was headed for history's rubbish heap, and that Conservative leader David Cameron would be the next Prime Minister. This consensus among the commentariat and the bulk of the political class was reinforced by consistently depressing poll numbers for the Labour Party and for Brown in particular.

I may have missed some exceptions, but I can remember only a few scattered occasions when anyone seriously questioned this scenario. Back in July 2009 the American political consultant Mark Penn, who once worked for Tony Blair, did suggest that it might be too early to count Brown out:
‘I think Brown is in a situation where he could win,’ said Penn. He noted that, in the US in 1994, ‘65 per cent said they would never vote for Clinton, and yet two years later he won by a virtual landslide’. He added: ‘Voters can and do take a second and even third look at their leaders. Tory leader David Cameron has hit a barrier, and a lot of lapsed ­Labour voters are undecided – they can’t bring themselves to go back to the Conservatives.’ [....[

He added that Brown’s ‘fair deal’ rhetoric could yet work –if he was able to connect it to voter aspirations. ‘He has to have a programme that shows the best days of being a leader are ahead of him, and define what a fair deal means in this economy and in these changing times.’
But most reactions treated this prediction as pathetically unconvincing (and, frankly, Penn's notoriously disastrous record as one of the central players running Hillary Clintion's campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination did not add to his credibility).

=> Well, it may still turn out to be the case that Gordon Brown is about to become political road-kill and the period of New Labour ascendancy that began in 1997 has run its course. But maybe not. A startling new YouGov poll reported by the London Times suggests that, as voters get closer to the point that they actually have to vote, support for the Conservatives is collapsing. The headline of today's article in the Sunday Times is, astonishingly, "Gordon Brown on course to win election":
GORDON BROWN is on course to remain prime minister after the general election as a new Sunday Times poll reveals that Labour is now just two points behind the Tories.

The YouGov survey places David Cameron’s Conservatives on 37%, as against 35% for Labour — the closest gap between the parties in more than two years.

It means Labour is heading for a total of 317 seats, nine short of an overall majority, with the Tories languishing on a total of just 263 MPs [JW: due to the way the two parties' support is distributed unevenly between different Parliamentary districts]. Such an outcome would mean Brown could stay in office and deny Cameron the keys to No 10. [....]

The narrowing of the Conservative lead has been dramatic and rapid. Until January the Tories held close to a 10-point lead. But a week ago a Sunday Times YouGov poll put the gap at six points, suggesting a hung parliament, with the Tories still on course to become the largest party. [....]

The last time the gap between the two main parties came this close and the Tory support was so low was in autumn 2007. That was before Brown’s honeymoon ended with his failure to call a snap general election. The Conservatives went on to peak in May 2008 with a 26-point lead. [....]

Labour will believe it is benefiting from the upturn in the economy. For the first time in a YouGov poll since July 2007, before the financial crisis, people trust Labour more than the Tories to run the economy.
I have no idea whether or not a Labour victory is really a serious prospect, or whether these polling figures turn out to be a temporary blip. But, at least according to the Times, the YouGov poll has a pretty good track record.
YouGov, which began polling after the 2001 election, has developed a reputation for accuracy. Its final Sunday Times poll in 2005 was precisely right, and it accurately predicted Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2008 London mayoral election and the results of last year’s Euro elections.
In case this does turn out to be a complete flash in the pan, you may want to read the Times's analysis of this massive Labour Party surge before that analysis becomes historically irrelevant. See the article HERE. There's also this analysis by Gordon MacMillan at Harry's Place--in case it turns out to be prescient, we should put it on record.

--Jeff Weintraub