A new YouGov poll for the Daily Telegraph has topline voting intention figures of CON 47%, LAB 25%, LDEM 16%. YouGov also asked a series of questions about how people would vote with different people as Labour leader. Of the potential alternatives to Brown, only Jack Straw did better than Brown, and then not by a significant amount – CON 45% to LAB 24%. Under David Milliband support would be CON 47%, LAB 24% – worse than with Gordon Brown, albeit, not by a significant amount. With Ed Balls as Labour leader, the party would be pushed into third place behind the Liberal Democrats: CON 50%, LAB 17%, LDEM 18%.

Hypothetical questions like this are very popular when there are questions of leadership. In their favour I have to say that they are better than questions asking whether people are more or less likely to vote Labour if X was in charge, which people who would vote Labour anyway, or wouldn’t vote Labour under any circumstance, still say more or less. They do, however, have various downsides.

The first is that normal voting intention questions do not include prompting by the party leaders names, so realistically you should only compare the results of a question asking “how would you vote with Milliband in charge” with one saying “how would you vote with Brown in charge”. In the case of this poll therefore, what we don’t know is how people would have answered a question saying how would you vote at a general election if Gordon Brown were still leader – given his current popularity, mentioning his name in the question may have produced worse results.

The second question is how good people are at predicting how they will respond to future events. Back before Gordon Brown became leader we used to see polls showing he would be immensely unpopular. In the event when he became leader Labour received a huge boost in the polls. In the long term people were right, Brown did became unpopular, but personally I think that’s particular to the case of Gordon Brown: people’s reasons for disliking him were his personality (at the time they still thought him strong, decisive and competent), which it was very unlikely he’d be able to change. People also knew him very well after 10 years as Chancellor. For less well known politicans like David Milliband very few people will know him well enough to have the first idea what he would do as PM, or how they’d react. Their opinion of how they would vote with Miliband in charge is based on seeing him on the telly a couple of times, what he looks and sounds like. Such things are important, but they certainly aren’t everything.

Despite all this, these questions are important. Flawed they may be, but these are the closest we ever come to actual evidence that an alternative leader would do better than Gordon Brown, and at the moment it’s lacking. Sometimes it is the dog that doesn’t bark that’s important – imagine the impact this poll would have had if it had shown David Milliband would cut the Tory lead to 10 points or less. The poll shows Labour 22 points behind the Conservatives, but I suspect GOrdon Brown will be pleased with it!

34 Responses to “Poll suggests Brown’s rivals would be no improvement”

  1. Polls of this kind are meaningless. It is not possible to factor in the inevitable recognition factor. Channel 4 were on a beach yesterday showing people pictures of David Miliband and one punter named him as Barack Obama (if only). So it’s simply pointless to ask a Brown v Miliband question when almost everyone in the land knows who Brown is and has a view of him, but many won’t have seen enough of Miliband to have formed any particular judgement of him.

  2. It was interesting to see that in the telegraph that currently 32% of people would vote for labour if Tony Blair were still prime minister. For this is what labour was getting in national polls last year in May before he stepped down.

    Also the 25% for Gordon Brown comes very close to what the party as a whole are presently receiving in the national polls.

    I think this demonstrates the accuracy and reliability of the polls taken by Yougov.

    What must be most sobering for the Labour party is that none of the cabinet are rated more highly than Gordon Brown.

    The demise of the Labour leadership goes back to the time when they decided to go to war in Iraq. A few of their best in the cabinet resigned over the issue. Clair Short was one and I’m embarrased to say I can’t remember the name of the other. I do recall sadly that he has sinced passed away.

    When Labour came to power their anthem was “things can only get better.” And I think public opinion would go along with the view that for quite a long they did, at least somewhat, get better. But since the decision to go to war in the Iraq things have got gradually worse for Labour and more importantly for Britain as well.

    I wouldn’t call this God’s judgement. I’m not inclined to think in those terms. I simply think this is a fact.


  4. It was Robin Cook who resigned and sadly passed on. It is of course tragic that we have often thought much more highly of figures once they have resigned on a point of principle but it is rare these resignations actually make a difference.

    Hence in a long term government, often a pool of integrity is pushed to the fringes leaving the career politicians to be able to safely ignore them.

  5. There were some bad personal polls for Brown around March 2007, showing the Tory vote nudging up to 40-42 when asked the question if he was leader.
    I’d like to think this was partly because of the Tory campaign against him on helping ruin the pension funds (I say helped, not all his fault because poor stock returns and longer life expectancy has reduced the payouts aswell).

    But I do agree with the basic analysis that one doesn’t really know how people are going to re-act to a new PM until they are there.

    I would say Brown’s fairly brief unpopularity as Chancellor in early 2007, and unpopularity now are little related.

  6. This poll was conducted during the period when Miliband’s attack on Brown was breaking. So I imagine things will deteriorate further for Labour. Clegg is now targeting Labour seats and the Lab/LD gap is only 9.

    PS Anthony: you mean “hypothetical” not “rhetorical”

  7. I would like to see Ed Balls as Labour leader. I think he would do a good job!

  8. labour supporters are in dream land.labour inherited one of the most productive and strongest ecomonies in the world.the tories in 1979 inheritited one of the worst.
    cameron looks like inhertiting one of the worst economies in 2009/10.
    i just wonder if the labour (union dependent) party is goosed.
    what is the point in this cycle of decline.the worst part is milliband has a first degree in politics.he knows tax and spend does not work.looking at labour over a 30 year period,is like watching the slowest car crash in history.

  9. Will this poll embolden Mr Brown to sack David Milliband?

    Ed Balls as Foreign Sec?

  10. The figures of Con50% and Lab17% with Balls as leader seem highly singnificant , if the figures are real. They indicate a core Labour vote much lower than previously thought, say 15%. A core Labour voter would not switch to the Conservatives because Balls was elected – the most they would do,perhaps, is not vote at all.

  11. The numbers on Miliband could be suspect because some people will mix him up with his brother. The both look and sound rather the same (geeks)

  12. If I was Gordon Brown I would stay exactly in my post,
    I’d sack Ed Balls, and David Miliband – banish them to the backbenches for ever.
    And I wouldn’t even give them the grovelly letter – they’d be crawling out of Downing Street on their hands and knees chased by Michael Crick.

    I’d put Patricia Hewitt in the Home Office, and Jacqui Smith at Minister of State level in Northern Ireland.

    Charles Clarke would be silenced by making him Foreign Secretary.

    I’d abolish the Schools post and merge it with one Education job as before.

  13. Re Jamie July 31 9.19pm post

    Yes, completely meaningless.

    I read in a newspaper that the recent ComRes poll that gave the Tories a 22 point lead also asked voters which party they most naturally identified with. On this, the paper claimed, the Tories were only 3 % ahead. Some of that small lead must have been affected by the dreadful last few months for Labour so in effect, once Labour has the right team and focus, the Tories have no real lead at all.

    I wouldn’t normally pick Miliband myself, he’s certainly not Obama. And yet he has shown more leadership skills in the last 48 hours than Brown has all year. Just in one Guardian article he notes Labours achievements, what’s still to do, and most importantly how to attack policy averse Cameron.

    What’s striking is that only 2 backbenchers criticised Miliband, not one cabinet member came to Brown’s support. Hutton did on the radio this morning but he had to be pushed to name Brown so that doesn’t count.

    Time for Brown to do potter off and do something he’s good at; how about preparing for the state funeral of that great unifier of the country Baroness Thatcher.

  14. Gareth – Comres always ask the “do you consider yourself Lab/Con/Lib” question, and it always seems to put Labour slightly ahead, if anything, no matter how far behind in the voting intention question, although at around 22%-v-23% or so it seems to suggest people do intend to vote according to what they think is best, rather than how they define themselves.

    People tend to change their minds on politics, without necessarily changing their orientation.

    the leadership skill that’s missing is not so difficult to learn/rectify. It’s to do with the strand of leadership that develops along the line of knowing what to say, to whom, when, and how.

    Brown has decided not to say very much, to say what he does say in stilted tones, has said it to the wrong people (eg Andrew Marr in October, thereby alienating the rest of the press), and has chosen moments to announce things that are transparently poltically timed.

    What Milliband has done is articulate a defence of the Government, and an attack on the opposition, in the Guardian, in a readable and calm style.

    It might well be that Brown is keeping his powder dry, and that the “vision” will emerge with all the more power for having been kept from us for so long. It could well be the case that he wants more people like Milliband to stick their necks out and make a name for themselves (on the principle that strong team members/ potential captains are welcome).

    I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath.

  15. Its significant if people haven’t seen enough of Miliband to form an opinion of him.

    He has been in the Cabinet for yonks. He has been touted as leader before with all the incidental publicity. Is regularly on TV – Question Time etc. Is in the unusual and interesting postion of having a brother in Cabinet. He currently holds one of the big three jobs and possibly the easiest, where he gets photo ops with lots of important people to help him look statesmanlike – but doesn’t have the daily cock ups at the Home Office or the nasty baggage that comes with being Chancellor.

    Yet I suspect its true that he has barely registered. Well if he was their great hope, he ought to have caused a ripple or so by now.

    Gordon handed Miliband a fantastic opportunity when he made him FO – all part of his big man/big tent phase.
    Miliband has failed to make anything of it.

    David Cameron caused more of a stir with one speech, during an election contest for the leader of an unpopular party in oppposition. I suspect he would have done a great deal more with the scope Miliband has had.

    I suspect Cameron and Brown will both be smiling at this one.

  16. Polls such as these are not “meaningless”: they can have a considerable effect on politics. In late 1990 a spate of polls showed that if Michael Heseltine was leading the Conservatives they would do much better than if Mrs Thatcher was leading them. I dare say these had an impact on how Conservative MPs voted in the first ballot of the leadership election. It’s interesting to note, however, that the situation now is different, with no alternative candidate popular with the public. Miliband has been in the public eye for years, yet voters still dislike him. I think the Labour brand is now tarnished, no matter who leads them.

  17. These polls are very useful. I suspect any new PM would get a brief poll bounce, but when the polls settle after three months these are the kinds of figures we could well see.
    Back in 1983 polls were showing the Liberal-SDP Alliance would have done better had they been led by David Owen rather than Roy Jenkins – probably enough for Labour to be third in terms of the popular vote.

  18. The Milliband article in The Guardian is interesting.

    As john tt says it is certainly “articulate” -which makes a change from GB.But I can imagine Cameron licking his lips at crossing swords on some of it’s assertions.

    Milliband’s “admissions” on slow reforms to public services, and lack of devolution of power away from Whitehall to “citizens” will be meat & drink to DC-as well as begging the question “well whose fault was that?”. Milliband’s simultaneous espousal of the central role for government invites a “make your mind up” response-but also potential for real debate.

    An honest debate with someone who shows signs of being willing to have one, would surely be welcomed by Gove ( on “school standards are rising” ) & IDS ( on there is no “Broken Society” )

    Milliband says ” but in government unless you choose sides you get found out”. That is an interesting remark-is it rejection of the fudge inherant in Third Way New Labour Triangulation ?-perhaps it’s code for some other failure by the Government he is part of.

    The problem with the article though is-who & what is it for?

    It’s central theme seems to be a call to articulate Labour achievements & attack the Conservatives. But that message surely should be delivered in private this week in Southwold, or in public in September in Manchester.

    If it is a declaration of his candidacy for leadership, then he must know that there will be no more coronations & that the Byzantine proceedures for a Labour Party Leadership contest will ensure the “summer of introspection.” which he says is the very thing they don’t need.

    All very strange-does this man actually know what he is doing?

  19. David Miliband has effected a minor miricle in the past few days – he has said everything and nothing: he has offered a critique which offers a legitimate defence of his unpopular government while mounting a more-than-adequate attack on their principle opponent.

    But from the context of a Labour party with a wobbly leader such a show of moral and intellectual backbone, however weak and timid it was, constitutes a coded leadership bid!

    In one way Miliband has drawn fire from Brown by deflecting attention from Cameron, while also upping the ante by drawing criticism from Brownite loyalists.

    So Miliband has simultaneously managed to pull off a trick which combines the political and the populist with genius sleight-of-hand: the altar boy has started a round of chinese whispers from the door of the confessional – so it’s no wonder that journalists decided to bite when the alternative was to turn their kremlinology skills to interpreting beachwear!

    Let’s just remember that while the PM is on holiday it is good to see the leash loosened and the mice allowed to play for a while – he can only hope that the kids don’t annouce an open invitation to a house-trashing party on a social networking website!

    So maybe it would be wiser to wait until the moment that discretion no longer forms the better part of valour and challengers are forced to face up to each other in front of a baying audience at their autumn conference – until then enjoy the silly season!

  20. “Moral backbone” it did not show-that would have accrued from a short resignation speech from the Cabinet, a clear declaration ( not a coded one) of his bid for leadership together with the names of the requisite number of supporting MPs to trigger a Party election

    The chinese have been whispering for weeks & months now.Yet another “nudge nudge , wink wink” sketch from this Monty Python crew will simply confirm the public in their clearly expressed desire for something “completely different”.

    If Labour MPs want new policies & a new leader let them go to the electorate with both.

    If they don’t want a new leader let him get on with “doing the job” he keeps telling us about.

  21. even if labour come back for a short time with a new leader the net poll ratings will be the same as now within a few weeks or a month but who ever beacomes the new labour leader if at all will call an election a short time after and lose not by the current prediction but by half of that if he or she plays it right, but i would like to see brown stay untill the next GE in 2009/2010.

  22. While noting the doubts about methodology, the impact of name recognition (or rather lack of name recognition) and the interesting selection of alternatives presented to respondents, this confirms what I’ve felt for a while – Gordon brown is unpopular but the same is true of the labour Party in general. Replacing Gordon Brown with David Miliband changes nothing bar the fact that someone has to depose.

    However – and this is a contrast with John Major replacing Margaret Thatcher – there are no obvious policy changes that might affect an alteration in Labour’s poor fortune. And -unlike Labour in 1990-1992 – the Conservatives have a leader who is seen as up to the job something no-one ever believed of Neil Kinnock.

  23. It’s not so much that the Labour party is unpopular – it’s the government.
    This is mainly due to two factors: one is that the economy is in trouble relative to its many years of substantial real growth, and voters perceive their own position and prospects negatively by large margins. Ordinary people are bothered by this, not by the ins and outs of detailed politics and personalities, which obsess political enthusiasts, journalists, and politicians.
    The second is that this government has now been in office for 11 years. There is an independent ‘time for a change’ factor.
    As a result of the above, it cannot be expected that any suggested change of leader would have a significant effect. The higher figure for Blair is a touch of forgetful nostalgia. If he were still in position, the Labour % would be at least as low as it is now (except that he would have been removed by his party, as indeed he was!) – and if he or any others on the list were to become leader, after a short and superficial honeymoon the polls would converge on what they would be with Brown.
    Governments are blamed for, or at least become unpopular as a result of, economic downturns, and oil crises in particular almost always remove those in office at the subsequent election, as in the early 1970s.

  24. every govenment beacomes unpopular after some time in office beacuse they look old, run down and out of touch with what people are thinking, part of the curent problem for the govenment is the fact they have been in power for 11 years that would knock off at least 5 or 6% from their total, another 1 0r 2% come from the economey, and the fact that we are now seeing what a mess gordon brown will leave us with after hes been voted out of office in one or two years time, the problem is when it comes to people puting their cross in the box as we saw with 1992 people stuck with major the so called (the sun what won it!) it was found out that a secret conservative base was voting that know one new about and major won by 7% of the popular vote, the only difference this time is the conservatives are not placed as well as labour were in 1997 they have less seats than labour had, less votes and less marginals to win but they have a govenment that is unpopular, and the shear whight of votes could put labour into the history books if a million more votes had been cast for labour in 1997 then the conservative count would have been more like 130 seats not 166 and thats the case now 15 million votes for the conservative should wipe labour out but 7 million for the lib dems would put them in second and the con-lib dem govenment which has been missing for some time would be restored.

  25. If they don’t get rid of Brown soon, Labor will be out of power for a generation – so any challenger to his leadership would be a good thing.

  26. lpf

    thats just what im saying in my resent comment that labour is doomed with brown but that if a new leader is elected he will call an election as soon as he can and try at least to give him self a mandate.

  27. Amazingly the net result of all these polls is that the Weighted Moving Average is utterly stuck at 45:26:17 – no change at all for the last 20 days and not much since mid-June. Given the continuing stream of calamities happening to Labour this is hard to understand. Perhaps the increasing chance of Brown going before the next election is holding up the Labour vote? Or maybe the politically aware are on holiday?

  28. NBeale, the calamities are consequences of rather than contributors to Labour’s problems. Most folk have arrived at a position and gone to the pub/holiday/garden centre. Things won’t shift again until the kids go back to school (barring major happenings). The leadership stuff with Miliband doesn’t register with ordinary voters and won’t until he jumps.

    It remains the case that the problem the electorate has is with the Labour Government rather than specifically with Gordon Brown. There are no particular policy issues affecting the situation (which makes it rather different from 1980)rather it is a combination of the economy and a sense of ‘rabbits and headlights’.

  29. Scottish figures for the Poll are;

    Lab 24% ( 1 lower than UK!), Tory 20%, LibDem 13%, SNP 38%. Even with the small sample a figure of 38% suggests a post Glasgow East boost for the SNP at Labours expense with the Tories up slightly but not by much and the Libdems still in the doldrums.

    As with elsewhere scotland is still more pro Brown that the rest of the UK with Scottish support for labour lower for almost everyone else that the UK Labour figure, Straw breaks even and Blair is worst but all the rest lower in an area where you would normally expect a higher vote than the UK.

    It could be that the disinclinatio of Scots voters to vote SNP for Westminster is currently on the wain, although I’ll avoid any of the nonsense that is in vogue about techtonic plates.


  30. ‘If they don’t get rid of Brown soon, Labor will be out of power for a generation – so any challenger to his leadership would be a good thing.’

    I do get bored with predictive comments based on people’s prejudices. Here is meant to be about analysis of polls; please go elsewhere for wish fulfilment.

  31. Labour are presently stuck on around 26% in the polls. But I think there is a strong possibility that they will drop further in October for three reasons: the coming Labour party conference is likely to be difficult with the media focussing on divisions; the new, and for many more expensive car tax system is likely to be unpopular; the big price rises in gas and electricity will begin to bite as the days get shorter and the weather colder.

    I predict a long, hard winter for this Labour government during which they will be even more unpopular then they are now! And the desire for a complete new start will be even greater in this country.

  32. This is like watching the implosion in slow motion – the rats are deserting the sinking ship & fast –

    ANTHONY’S Figures :- (CON 45% to LAB 24%. Under David Milliband support would be CON 47%, LAB 24% – worse than with Gordon Brown, albeit, not by a significant amount. With Ed Balls as Labour leader, the party would be pushed into third place behind the Liberal Democrats: CON 50%, LAB 17%, LDEM 18%.)

    It’s the last set of figures showing Labour in 3rd place if Ed Balls was leader – this is not fantasy land / as per my previous predictions – that is where Labour will be within months of losing the next election (3rd place) before breaking up for good – once again cut and paste !!

  33. The great failing of the this Labour government & the current British perception of them is all because they won 3 elections – this is the longest period in their history as a political party that they been in office so long – in the past the British only used Labour as a temporary punishment factor against the Tories for perhaps one term in office before they could do any damage – that is what should have happened in 1997 – they should have been back out of power by 2002 at the latest – those extra 5 years (eventually 7 extra years) will be the end of Labour and Britain back where they were in 1979 – sad but true !!

  34. Mike – you’re sounding as repetitive as John Bull after retraining to be a DJ.