Would he still get it if polls showed a leadership rival in the lead?
With the Telegraph and the Independent both having big articles this morning talking up a potential John Reid leadership bid could Gordon Brown’s chances of taking the top job be hit by opinion polls showing that he was behind a rival?
For the Chancellor has not got a good record in leadership polls in spite of the efforts by his supporters to over-state the importance of his withdrawal from the 1994 race.
Certainly not much prominence is given to a 1994 ICM survey of 1,420 started eight days after Smith’s death for the Guardian which found the following to the question of who was preferred as Labour leader:-
30% Tony Blair
17% John Prescott
13% Margaret Beckett
12% Gordon Brown
7% Robin Cook
Questions of this kind sometimes come down to who has the highest name recognition but I don’t think that affected it. Brown who was Shadow Chancellor was as well known as any on the list. Indeed two years earlier he was prominent enough for some in the party, including Tony Blair, to suggest that he should fight against John Smith.
So Brown’s 12% and coming in fourth behind Prescott and Beckett as well as Blair must have been devastating. If this is how the 43 year old Brown was rated when at least he had youth on his side how is the 55 year old going to perform?
On May 29th 1994 the ICM findings were backed up by a BBC survey which showed that Blair had a substantial lead over Brown among voters in all three sections of the party’s electoral college: MPs, trade unions, and ordinary party members. So when a couple of days later Gordon met Tony for their famous dinner at the Granita restaurant he was not able to press his case from a position of strength. He was a supplicant trying to get the best deal in exchange for pulling out.
Jumping forward to the coming contest the polls are almost certain to play a key part – just as they provided the springboard for David Cameron last October. The critical polling numbers will be how well Labour with Brown/Reid/Johnson/etc as leader would do against Cameron’s Conservatives.
If Gordon’s relative position is ahead or even level he is home and dry and I will reverse my betting positions and start backing him heavily. But if Brown is behind any of the other contenders and that is repeated in other surveys then his leadership challenge will surely be dead.
Recent polls don’t look promising. The detailed data from Populus in May and in July shows a significant proportion of Labour voters withdrawing their support in answer to Brown-Cameron-Campbell voting intention questions.
MPs in marginal seats are not going to support a leader who might cost them their jobs. The membership as a whole will, like the Tories last year, support the candidate most likely to be a winner and I would imagine this will influence the trade union votes as well.
I don’t know how Brown will compare with the other contenders – but those polls could be crucial. The precedent of 1994 is not good for Gordon.
In the betting the Reid price continues to tighten although one bookmaker still has him at 12/1 although the most you can get on is Â£100.
I’m begininng to think that the Labour leadership race is going to be as big a cash bonanza for me as David Cameron’s victory was.