Did the shadow of Tony determine the historic decision?
We are not far away from the second anniversary of what’s likely to go down as the defining decision of the Gordon Brown era – his cancelling in October 2007 of an early election. This is something that will be examined again and again in future years and still dominates our politics.
For the polls during the Brown honeymoon had all been going Labour’s way and Brown apparently had a chance to capitalise by securing another general election victory for his party.
In the run-up well over a million pounds had been spent on the party machine including a big chunk on private surveys.
My understanding is that the key consideration was not whether Labour would get a fourth term but rather how the result would measure up against what Tony Blair achieved two and half years earlier.
For Brown feared that even if Labour had got a working majority everybody would compare it with May 2005. He had to be certain of doing better.
The bar was set very high because the Labour leadership had gone through all the disappointments of 1992 and were, quite rightly in my view, ultra-sceptical about big poll leads.
The equivocal nature of the evidence in that crucial week meant that he could not be confident of meeting the target. That’s why the pull-back was decided upon. Brown then had his famous interview with Andrew Marr.
The following week the polls started to turn, Labour’s lead evaporated, and the Tories began to build up big margins. In the last week of September 2007 Populus, YouGov had double digit Labour leads. ICM had it at 8% – a situation that was reversed to an 7% Tory lead little more than a week after the U-turn.
I think that Brown was right in making his target as beating the 2005 result. A worse outcome would have looked bad.