Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The opinion poll in yesterdays Guardian puts the Tories on 40%, Labour on 31% and the Lib Dems on 19%. Even more interestingly they then go on to examine the state of the polls if the name specific leaders and give figures of 42% for the Tories under Cameron, 29% for Labour under Brown and 17% for the Lib Dems under Campbell. So does this mean anything and should we be worried?
42% is heading towards the sort of figure that the Tories were getting in General elections during the eighties and early nineties when they were polling around 45 – 46%. 29% is (according to the Guardian) the sort of poll rating that Labour were achieving under Michael Foot in the early eighties. 17% is historically not a bad figure for the Liberal Democrats although recently we have done better. Our figures tend to rise during election periods as we get more coverage and between elections we struggle to be heard.
The political landscape at present is extremely unusual. Blair is damaged goods and is limping on until some as yet unknown date – probably after the local elections on May 3rd but who knows. Brown has his agreement and is biding his time and whilst he may be making plans for his post Blair regime he is unable to go public with anything as yet.
Most worrying for the Liberal Democrats is that we have been unable to exploit this situation. Part of this is undoubtedly down to the normal difficulty we have as the third party in gaining media attention for what we are saying but the opinion poll hints at the fact that for us Ming Campbell is not a positive. This is important because whereas Brown cannot act publicly as Leader Campbell already is Leader.
The Tories are not surprisingly exploiting this vacuum on the British political stage. At present Cameron is in effect getting a free run and not surprisingly his opinion poll ratings have risen accordingly.
The political landscape in the UK will look very different in about six months time if and when Brown walks through the door of number 10. The stage will be his and pretty much his alone for some time and we can fully expect him to hit the ground running having had so much time to prepare for the transition.
A number of high profile announcements will attempt to reposition Brown and the Labour government. Expect a quick exit from Iraq (at least quicker than todays likely announcement) and a complete repositioning of our foreign policy possibly along the lines of “an ethical foreign policy” but with a different strap line. He may also attempt to do something about the lingering problems in the NHS. Whether or not this re-branding will succeed only time will tell but the opinion polls will look significantly different for a while.
The key question is how the Liberal Democrats in general and Ming Campbell in particular can best attempt to exploit the current vacuum – that is the bit we should be worrying about.
My suggestion for what it is worth is as follows.
Set up a group to identify and review likely Brown initiatives which he may wish to launch in the early days of his administration.
Focus in on those that he will need to push if he is to succeed in re-branding the Labour government and disassociating itself from Blair.
Find those that match with our own policies and principles and focus all our fire power on pushing for these things to be done.
In other words show leadership and steal Browns thunder before he gets to Number 10!