The last time a party elected a leader in the face of the polls
In August 2001 ICM carried out a poll to test the reactions of ordinary voters to the two remaining candidates in that year’s Tory leadership contest – Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke. It will be recalled that these two had got to the final short-list after Michael Portillo had been squeezed out in the Tory MP part of the selection process.
When asked to compare the two of them these were how those surveyed rated Clarke over IDS:-
In the ballot of Tory members IDS won by an overwhelming majority.
The big difference between the Tories in 2001 and Labour in 2006-2007 is that five years ago the party was still coming to terms with its second devastating defeat and very few Tory MPs believed that their jobs were on the line if they got the leadership choice wrong.
When Labour eventually gets round to its election there will be dozen of MPs in English marginals who will be judging the contenders almost solely on the basis of which one would help them most to retain their seats and their parliamentary salaries.
When faced with the polls five years ago the IDS camp said that it would “all be different when Iain was actually in the job”. When elected he “would get much more exposure and his “ratings would be sure to improve”. Now where have I heard that recently?
At the end October 2003, after less than two years and two months in the job, IDS was ousted by his fellow MPs.
Ever since the polls started showing that the succession of Gordon Brown might increase the Tory margin I have taken the view that the leadership contest would be more open than received opinion and the betting might suggest. I cannot see how a party hungry to hold onto power would do anything that would make that task harder.
The story of IDS and the Tories, however, suggests that parties do not always do what is in their best electoral interest. The big risk in betting against Brown is that Labour might follow suit.