Can the party even contemplate a fourth term without Blair?
For all the excitement now there’s a firm end to the Tony Blair era in sight the uncomfortable question has to be asked – is it possible for Labour to win General Elections without him? Has the pressure from the party that forced his September 2004 commitment not to run for a fourth term and last week’s mid-2007 departure statement meant that Labour has killed it’s Golden Goose?
Here’s a poll finding that should be scaring the pants off Labour campaigners. The detailed data from Saturday’s YouGov survey had Labour supporters dividing 82-6 to the question “If you had to choose, who do you think would make the better – Prime Minister, Tony Blair or David Cameron?”. When the same question compared Brown and Cameron the Labour supporters split 79-10.
This is in line with poll after poll that have shown that amongst party supporters at least Blair does better than Brown. Where the Chancellor gets a bonus is from Lib Dem supporters who invariably support him rather than the outgoing occupant of No 10.
For Blair has extraordinary qualities when it comes to winning elections. Just think back to everything that had gone on in the two years before the May 2005 election, and yet even with negative poll ratings, Blair produced a great result. His ability in the final week to demonise the Tories, and get Labour waverers back on board, was a triumph.
The relationship between Blair and the voters is like that between a wife and an errant husband. He gets thrown out of the marital bed every so often but in the end he’s always invited back.
Through his personal style, the way he looked and spoke, and for the way he got Labour to use a different vocabulary he became the first major Labour politician who was able to relate to the English middle classes. They responded in their millions in 1997 and most stayed in 2001. What are these voters going to do now? It is hard to see who else in the party has the same magic?
How would he have fared in a General Election encounter with Cameron? Sadly we will never know but my guess, supported by the polling evidence, is that he would have done a lot better than any of the prospective Labour leaders that are being talked about.
For the Tory leader the past seven days must be like a dream. Not only are Labour self-destructing but he also knows for sure that he won’t be up against the one person most equipped to stop him next time. It won’t be the mighty Tony who is facing Cameron in his first General Election campaign as leader.
Labour are now out to 1.3/1 in General Election “most seats” betting – their weakest position for fourteen years.