Did Blair concede too much at the Granita?
We all know about the famous dinner at the Granita in Islington at the end of May 1994 which has shaped British politics ever since.
For Brown came away from that meeting thinking that he had Blair’s backing as the heir apparent in exchange for not pursuing his own candidature.
Yet just looking back at the polling of the period this seems crazy. Brown was simply not in it. Just look at the panel above which is from the Guardian’s May 1994 ICM survey which started eight days after John Smith’s. In terms of public preferences Blair was on 30%, Prescott 17%, Beckett 13% with Brown in fourth place on 12%.
At that time, after a decade and a half in the wilderness, Labour desperately wanted a winner and there’s little doubt that ICM’s findings gave Blair a significant boost. Just like Cameron and the Tories eleven years later the young public school Oxford alumnus appeared to be the one who could transform their fortunes.
Of course polling questions like this 1994 ICM one can sometimes come down to who has the highest name recognition. But Brown, who was Shadow Chancellor, was as prominent as any on the list. Indeed two years earlier his position was such that many in the movement, including Tony Blair, pressed him to fight against John Smith.
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.
Blair agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.
Brown, as we saw in the lead up to the G20, is one helluva negotiator. It’s a mistake to underestimate him even when he appears weak.