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Was Brown Labour’s “Weakest Link” in 1997?

October 15th, 2008


    What does this say about his potential at the next general election?

Almost everybody with an interest in politics remembers May 1st 1997 – the day that Tony Blair’s Labour party swept to power after eighteen years in the wilderness. The 13% margin in the popular vote and the way anti Tory voters were prepared to vote for whoever in their seat had the best chance of beating the Tory meant that Labour’s landslide majority was substantially greater than any of the seat projections.

    Yet it might come as a surprise to note that according to what turned out to be the most accurate final poll, ICM for the Guardian, Labour went into polling day behind on the economy (see the panel above)

These numbers are even more remarkable given the back-ground to the fall of the Major government and the affects of Black Wednesday in 1992 – and indeed Blair’s party held a comfortable lead on the economy right through until the election campaign started. It was during April 1997, after the formal campaign had begun, that Labour began to struggle on this question reaching, at one stage, a deficit of 6%.

So why raise it now you might ask? Well firstly it’s a powerful rebuff to those who seem to believe implicitly that “leading on the economy” has an impact on voting intention – something we have been hearing a lot of at the moment. And secondly, and much more controversially, it raises questions about the campaigning prowess of the person who was leading for Labour on the economy in 1997 – one Gordon Brown.

    How come that even in the most friendly of times for Labour was the party not able to show significant leads on what we are always told is the central issue – the economy?

Brown, of course, was up against Ken Clarke who to my mind was the most effective member of John Major’s team – but that doesn’t totally explain the polling.

Looking forward what does this say about Gord’s effectiveness as a campaigner if he leads Labour at the next general election?

Mike Smithson






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