Who’d have thunk it? Gordon Brown, one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers since polling began, has clawed his way back up the opinion polls. Where the Conservatives were ahead by 10, 15 and even 20 points, they’re now down to single figures and, if YouGov are to believed, have been cut back to a five point lead. This at the time of the worst economic recession in sixty years. Something’s happening here and Labour’s back in the fight. When the General Election’s called, Labour could well retain their pride and deny the Tories an overall majority.
Gordon Brown himself is a figure reborn. The constant malaise of accusations of weakness, mendacity and incompetence has had an eroding effect on his popularity ever since he ducked out of calling a General Election in 2007. He seemed to have hit an absolute low after Andrew Rawnsley’s book; the Prime Minister was called an office bully, a man barely unable to conceal his seething temper. He was a man out of control and heading for annihilation. But wait. The bullying allegations seem to have rebounded. The floating voter is taking another look at Brown and thinking maybe enough muck’s been thrown at this guy. And he has survived the worst.
Brown’s own role in Labour’s comparative recovery should not be underestimated. A master strategist, Gordon Brown has always been able to play the long game. His experience of directing election campaigns is invaluable; he may not be a natural with the media but he is adept at political tactics and strategy. The last few months have been about defining clear dividing lines between Labour and the Conservatives. Forget that the BA strike is being run by one of your biggest supporters and poses a huge electoral risk; focus on the prize. This has been to restore Labour pride and give the electorate a clearer choice between a party that favours the role of government and one that wants to shrink the state.
Then there’s the question of whether David Cameron’s sealed the deal with the British electorate. The callow youth image, whether he’s a serious man for serious times and the practicality of having a highly privileged Old Etonian running a modern, multi-cultural economy strikes many as troubling. What are his convictions; is there a ‘Cameronism’ or is it the same as delivery-management based ‘Blairism’? The Tories like to think they’ve changed from being the Nasty Party but who are they and where do the want to go? Labour will play up the Cameron-Osborne diarchy as undergraduate debaters ill-equipped to govern or lead. And, if the trend keeps going against them, there may be enough voters to stop them governing in their own right.
What role for the third party in Britain’s most unproportional first past the post system? Nick Clegg’s has a really good opportunity inthe forthcoming TV debates to come across as, in US terms, a bi-partisan voice of reason. But Clegg’s Liberal Democrats run the risk of appearing all thing to all men; are they too right wing for Labour switchers or too left wing for Tory doubters? If they have the balance of power, would they put in the Conservatives? Whatever tilts there are between now and election day, the Lib Dems will have to alienate people. This is why it will be fascinating to watch their political maneuvering over the coming weeks.
What should Labour consider as a successful outcome? At this stage, a Hung parliament would have to be considered an outstanding result. A Tory minority administration implementing unpopular cuts might only last as long as the Liberal Democrats can stomach it. This is the best case scenario; a Labour win or them being the biggest party is a highly unlikely result. However, to have even got this far shows Gordon Brown to have considerable political resources and that he is a fighter, not a quitter.