Friday, 1 August 2008

Good News for Gordon

In a devastating YouGov poll reported in the Telegraph, a mere 15% of those questioned thought Gordon Brown was up to the job of prime minister - the worst rating of any prime minister, ever. Even John Major in his depths elicited more enthusiasm. And a mere 25% said that they would vote Labour - more or less what the party achieved under Michael Foot.

Yet this was also the best news Brown has had in weeks. Faced with a choice of possible leaders, only one seemed more attractive to voters than the incumbent. And it wasn't David Miliband (24%) or Jack Straw (ditto). It sure as hell wasn't Alan Johnson (18%), still less Charles Clarke, Gordon's ancient foe, who appealed to a mere 16% of voters. With him in charge, Labour would come third behind the Lib Dems, and the Tories would sweep the country.

It was Tony Blair. Astonishingly to anyone who is capable of remembering what he was actually like, Labour's popularity, it now turns out, would rise under a revenant Tony. Possibly things did seem a bit better then; perhaps people are just remembering the good times, when the country could afford to squander billions on an unnecessary war. Or perhaps he has become a fantasy PM, a sort of beardless Richard Branson. After all, he's almost as good at making money.

Labourites shouldn't get their hopes up. Even if Blair could be prevailed upon to give up his lecture tours and interfaith initiatives to save the country in its hour of need, Labour's support would only increase to just over 30%. My guess is that if David Cameron himself were to announce tomorrow he was joining the Labour party it would make little difference. This isn't about the man at the top. It's about the mess at the bottom.

The change people want to see is a change of government. By writing so monotonously in his Guardian article about the need for change, change and more change, Miliband almost admits it. But talk of change coming from a government that has been in power for more than a decade is hardly convincing.

Before he went on holiday, an already out-of-touch Nick Robinson was speculating that "It won't be long until some newspaper commissions a poll as to whether voters prefer him [Miliband] to Mr Brown." He thought that a favourable outcome for the Tim Henman lookalike was "quite likely given the favourable publicity he's had and the extraordinary unpopularity of the prime minister", and that the news would make a leadership battle almost inevitable. If so, Gordon Brown can enjoy the rest of his holiday.