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The Telegraph should believe its own pollster

December 31st, 2005

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    Gordon Brown is no longer the “grass is greener” alternative

In its main editorial at the end of 2005 the Daily Telegraph speculates this morning about the possibility that next year could be a General Election year.

It argues: “..Suppose that, at some stage in the coming 12 months, Tony Blair were to decide that he had had enough of the pettiness and contumely of domestic politics. Imagine that he were to seek a grander stage…that his place were to be taken by Gordon Brown and that – as opinion polls presently suggest – Mr Brown’s succession were to boost Labour’s standing. In such circumstances, might not the new Prime Minister be tempted to ask the Queen for an immediate dissolution?…A snap election would have huge attractions for Labour. For one thing, we would not yet have grown sick of our new premier. Mr Brown’s demerits as a party leader – his sullenness, his sourness, his dullness – are assets in a Chancellor, suggesting, as they do, competence. Mr Brown therefore enjoys high approval ratings, which might evaporate once we had to put up with him on the news every night..A 2006 election would preempt the boundary review, saving Labour around 15 seats. It would also catch the Opposition parties unprepared..”

The only problem with this thesis is that its central premise is wrong. Every opinion poll that has tested Brown against Cameron since the new Tory leader was elected has had Labour doing considerably worse under the Chancellor than under Blair.

    Probably the most important initial impact of the Cameron leadership is that he has taken over from Gordon Brown the mantle as the “grass is greener” candidate.

That the Telegraph can publish a main editorial in ignorance of this central fact is amazing. This is particularly so because YouGov, the paper’s pollster that got Cameron’s leadership vote to within one per cent, was the first to identify the changed climate and ICM, in a survey for its sister paper, the Sunday Telegraph, came up with similar results a few days later.

The notion that a Brown premiership would be much more popular than a Blair one is so seeped into the media consciousness that the fact that this is no longer the case is going to take time to sink in. But we expect better of a Daily Telegraph leader.

Punters ready to risk money have been a bit more savvy. In the past month the betting price on Brown taking over from Blair has eased from 0.35/1 to 0.47/1. Unless the polls change we cannot see how Labour would choose a new leader who the evidence showed was an electoral liability. A big current bet of mine is that Brown will not make it.

Put faces to the names of those who have contributed some of the 108,708 comments on the site during 2005. The second PB.C party will be on Saturday January 14, at the “Star Tavern” Belgrave Mews West, London SW1. Time – from 6 o’clock onwards. Please contact Innocent Abroad if you want to attend.

Mike Smithson






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