Can Brown be liberal and illiberal at the same time?
At the recent British Polling Council conference I got into a debate with a Labour party official about being mis-led by polling findings and that the only thing that mattered was the electoral impact. Thus pursuing a policy that was broadly supported was not necessarily the right thing to do.
He quoted the national ID card issue which poll after poll has shown has broad public support and on which he said “Labour was on the right side of public opinion”. Indeed a big YouGov survey last year had 52% in favour to 37% against.
Yet that same survey found that unlike those backing the main two parties the declared Lib Dem supporters were against.
I know a Lib Dem member who has supported the party and its predecessor all her life who feels so strongly about the issue that if she thought that the only way of stopping the cards was by voting Tory would possibly do so. Her decision could be crucial because unlike the vast majority of electors she lives in a highly marginal Labour seat. The last thing Labour wants is for electors like her to vote tactically.
It is doubtful that her actions would not be off-set by supporters of ID cards moving to Labour over the issue.
A massive challenge for Brown is having policies on crime, terrorism and immigration that keep Labour’s core support together and at the same time to try to win back some of the 6% who switched from Labour to the Lib Dems in 2005.
My guess is that the views of the latter are much more critical to the outcome than the former for whom the real threat of Labour being beaten should be enough to get them to the polls. Brown has also to avoid a policy platform that causes Tory-leaning Lib Dems to switch.
This is the battle-ground for the next election. My sense is that Cameron knows it but I’m not certain about Brown.