In November I listed four “known unknowns” that I thought had the most chance of changing the political landscape before the election – the end of the recession, the budget, the leaders debates and the last chance for Labour to oust Brown. January was always really the last opportunity for Labour to remove him, and to be honest I was starting to think that it would go quietly without a final attempt by Labour rebels – but lo and behold, here it is.

So, would getting rid of Brown help Labour? On the positive side, I’m certain Brown is dragging down Labour. The polling questions that are normally used to test this are hypothetical questions asking how people would vote with X as Labour leader, and don’t suggest any great transformation with another leader. I’ve rubbished these questions many, many times before and I don’t want to rehearse the same arguments – essentially they are very hard to do if you want to make them really comparable. More importantly, they are expecting people to predict how they will react to alternative leaders they probably don’t know much about.

Look instead at these polls. Firstly a question from MORI in July 2008 – an excellent question that they sadly don’t seem to have asked since. They asked people whether they liked Brown and Labour, Brown but not Labour, Labour but not Brown, or neither of them. 21% of people liked Labour, but not Brown. 11% liked Brown but not Labour. Overall 29% of people liked Brown, but 39% liked Labour. In comparison, only 8% liked the Conservatives but not Cameron, 19% liked him but not his party. The totals there were 43% liked the Conservatives, but 54% liked Cameron. Brown is dragging his party down, Cameron is boosting his.

Secondly, look at Brown’s personal ratings. One could pick any of huge numbers of polls for this, they are uniformly awful, but my example here is Populus’s 2009 conference poll. 63% thought he was weak, 69% not up to the job, 69% out of touch, 67% dithering, 56% unlikeable, 86% dull, 61% a liability, and so on – there are pages of negative ratings. David Cameron outranked him on every single one, even things like substantial vs lightweight that were once Brown’s strongest cards.

Labour have improved in the polls since these two examples, and the chances are there is some improvement in Brown’s own scores… but even quite a chunky improvement would still leave them as pretty horrific.

Finally, take the figures about halfway down this page, and compare them with the actual voting intention figures from the Summer of 2006. Before Gordon Brown became leader people told pollsters it would make them less likely to vote Labour. When he did become leader, Labour immediately soared in the polls and enjoyed a few months solidly ahead of the Conservatives.

The moral is, don’t look at hypothetical polls of how people think they might vote with X in charge. People are rubbish at predicting how they will react, especially how they would react to a politician most of them know little about, becoming PM and doing things none of the respondents can predict. We don’t really know how the public would react in practice to Alan Johnson, or David Miliband as leader, but we do know what they think of Gordon Brown.

The opposite side of the argument is, of course, the damage done to Labour by the process of removing Gordon Brown and the opportunity cost of having a leadership election, which could drag on for many weeks, in the immediate run up to an election campaign. The Conservatives could make hay while Labour argued with itself, and exactly how would Labour plan the election campaign itself without knowing who would be their leader when it arrived?

Charles Clarke suggested that a leadership contest could be over in 21 days. Certainly it could be if Labour gathered round a single candidate (and under the circumstances, the pressure to do so would be immense), but that can’t be guaranteed. I don’t know enough about the details of the Labour party’s constitution to know whether there are any other ways of avoiding a long contest, either way it’s not too difficult to come up with scenarios where getting rid of Brown is even more disasterous for Labour. It would be a huge gamble.

In terms of polls, if any of the Sunday newspapers have commissioned polling for this weekend it’s probably in the field around now – though of course, this latest story might have collapsed or moved on by the time we see the figures.

UPDATE: Actually it seems we will have some figures tonight after all (though one might well argue that the plot appears to already have fizzled out already, bar one of the dwindling number of cabinet ministers who has not yet backed Brown pulling out a surprise). YouGov apparently in the Sun tomorrow – not certain when the fieldwork began and ended.

79 Responses to “The plot against Brown”

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  1. Interesting analysis as always – I would be amazed if there are no polls this weekend. It seems like an absolute age since the last one.

    This leadership debate is like a recurring nightmare – just when everyone thought it had gone away up it pops again.

  2. How self-indulgent, how frigging tactless can Hoon, Clarke, Hewitt et al get?

    It doesn’t take a great deal of intellect to know that Gordon brown will not leave No.10 unless he is dead or voted out.

    The rebels had their chance last May around the time of the local elections. Horrendous results, ministers resigning and then James Purnell’s devastating resignation letter – if you haven’t the balls to exploit a situation like that, what makes the rebels think they will get the Prime Minister to leave six months before an election, as the polls have narrowed a bit!

    So just when Labour was starting to get traction on its campaign attacks, this is a gift to the Tories. Doesn’t matter what party you come from, it is clear that we can cue media frenzy in which Labour has to sort out another mess whilst the Conservatives could get away with murder.

  3. For once, I feel some sympathy for Gordon Brown. I think that Hoon and Hewitt have taken disloyalty to new extremes and Brown has every reason to feel hurt. I am a Tory and this development must be helpful to the Conservative cause but I’d much rather that the Conservatives win on their merits than on Labour’s failings.

    I think that possibly Brown’s best defence would be immediately to call a general election.

    I think that it is a gift to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. I cannot understand the thought processes that made Hoon and Hewitt do this. I don’t like Gordon Brown’s policies and I’m not that keen on him either, but you’d expect someone with my views to feel that way. I do not expect members of the Parliamentary Labour Party to shoot their own side. It’s like a football team scoring loads of own goals because they hate the goalkeeper. At the moment, I think my thoughts about this can be summed up as simply weird beyond belief!

  4. This could really be a game changer – not because there’s much chance of Brown losing, or even facing a ballot, but simply because it creates “divided labour” headlines. Labour’s recovery in the polls over the last 6 months or so seems to me to be linked to the fact that there’s been no real question mark over the Labour leadership. Even if this story fizzles out quickly, I would not be surprised to see another Labour slump in the polls over the next week or so.

  5. On the BBC News channel as the story was breaking, someone from YouGov was one saying they are currently polling, not sure if it will included a question on this though.

  6. I think a much more important battle is being fought. Most in the Labour Party believe that the election is lost. The Brownites or Balls are trying to shore up the core vote so that the crowned king(one of them) after a fight, after the election, does not have a mountain to climb to get back. While “new” Labour is fighting a spoiler to make sure the party is torn apart and then can be rebuild along Blair lines.

  7. I agree with you about hypothetical polls, Anthony.

    My personal opinion is that people are chattering idly about Brown’s leadership whilst not much is going on (well, the situation in Iceland could have major ramnifications, but it is hardly a buring topic of debate in the pubs).

    I think it is already too late to oust Brown before the election. It would hardly reflect well on Labour’s (dubious) record, and the inevitable leadership contest (which would appear likely to be bitter) would not only hold back Labour’s campaign in itself but would also hold back Labour’s preparations for the election in general.

    Sadly, my major worry about Brown is one which is unfair. It is quite possible that the major mover of political opinion before the election will be the television debates between Brown, Cameron and Clegg. Labour is, being already behind, gambling that Cameron will slip up (as he has just done in a less serious context over Tory policy on marriage. But if this does not happen I am sorry to say that Brown is likely to lose on non-verbals. Eye contact is very important in such situations, and the time has come that one cannot afford saying that Brown’s loss of an eye is therefore a critical problem. And in addition to the direct issue of eye contact, being one-eyed is likely to affect the messages transmitted by facial expression. Almost all of this goes on at a subconscious level. All this is unkind to Brown: of course debates should be decided on the merits of the arguments. But I am afraid television debates don’t work that way, as the famous Kennedy versus Nixon contest in 1960 shows.

    Incdientally to this thread, the new Cameron NHS posters appear, from their reproduction in the newspapers, to exploit the importance of the eyes in poster portraits. I am puzzled by these posters: I think if Labour are smart they could turn round the message: the poster could be made to imply that the Tories have not been doing well enough. But this poster is probably the first of a drip feed campaign using the Tories’ greater spedning power. We wait to see what psephological effect this has.

    Also incidentally, I will doubtless watch the terrestrial TV debates (I don’t have Sky). But I think they are Tweedledum, Tweedledee and, to coin a name, Tweedleda. (I have an image in my mind of Tweedledum and Tweedledee arguing over a football rattle whilst Tweedleda at their feet shakes a baby’s rattle, but sadly I am no good at drawing cartoons): they are all part of the liberal capitalist system which is failing financially. Coming back to psephology, it will be interesting to see how far the big three’s disproportionate exposure in debate will eat into the increased Other vote which is a notable feature of British politics since 2005, or how many people will (like me) stick to Others, for instance on the principle that since neither major party has deleivered full employment for thirty years there is no point of voting for either of them, or the liberals whose economic policies they have taken over. “No job for me, no vote for you”.

  8. This does seem like pressing the self distruct button. What can this achieve ? There is no way Brown will be voted out but will be left wounded and undermined. A gift to David Cameron. Can see Labour back in the mid twenties on the polling front.

  9. Looking at the BBC News Channel in the last few minutes this already seems like an old News story. They have already moved on to discuss other items such as the weather and UDA decomissioning.

    My view is that in the medium to long term this will not have any adverse effects on Labour’s poll ratings on top of what already exists.

    What do people think?


    “I think that Hoon and Hewitt have taken disloyalty to new extremes”

    As ye sow-so shall ye reap.

  11. Unless a cabinet minister comes out in support this evening my guess is it will fizzle away as quickly as it arrived.
    Which isn’t to say it won’t damage Labour, although I suspect the extent will be difficult to measure.

  12. From Sky News: YouGov poll due tonight for The Sun.

  13. Certainly a stupid move, if Hoon and Hewitt genuinely have Labour’s interests at heart. So far it doesn’t seem like its getting much traction, but it puts to an end the reasonably good start Labour’s had in the new year.

    I disagree with those who feel sorry for Brown though. “Plotting against the current PM in the hope that he will resign” – Reminds me very much of a certain, ahem, Mr Brown…

  14. When I flicked on the news and saw this, my first thought was of that army guy (I am bad with names). While having taken a breath or two it doesn’t seem likely any of them will cross the floor……it really does seem like they’re actively trying to sabotage their own party. Madness.

    It might not hurt Brown much, it (presumably) won’t get anywhere, and he is atm very much appearing as the sensible guy getting on with running the nation, a narrative that’ll go down better with the adverse weather than otherwise.
    Politicians haven’t managed to blame that on each other yet at least.

  15. It’s a suicide move. Judging from the statements today, it’s clear there was very little backbench support for the move. They’re hoping and praying for a Cabinet member to join in, but that’s moronic. They didn’t in June, why would they now when the rebels arrayed aren’t nearly as great?

    Sure, they mostly aren’t rushing to praise him to the skies, but none of them will make the first move. They’re either cowards or ultra-loyal but trying not to show it with a view to the post-election future.

    On the other hand, it’ll cripple Brown even more. It’d take a very tight media operation, pointing out most of the complainers are retiring Blairites or embittered former ministers, and turning Sheerman’s complaint about MPs not being consulted into an over-entitled whine – building on Tony Woodley’s comment that it’s not just MPs who elect the Labour leader.

    But if there’s one thing Labour doesn’t have any more, it’s a tight media operation.

    The worst thing is that with Hoon and Hewitt both retiring, we can’t even deselect them pour encourager les autres. If calling for a change of leadership automatically required a vote of confidence in one’s local CLP, plotting would be rarer and much more effectual when it did happen.

  16. Unenthusiastic support for Brown from Darling – so I reckon that’s this plot over. Still a new YouGov poll on its way, so all isn’t bad!

  17. Hewitt and Hoon’s decision is bizarre. They must know that their chances of success are slim and the defeat of their aims will lead to an even bigger defeat for Labour in the general election. The Conservatives are less in the lead now than they have been previously and there are talks about a hung Parliament–Hewitt and Hoon have jeopardised all this. All they will do is make Labour look split and this will benefit the Conservatives and increase their lead. Who now doubts that if the Conservatives had rallied to Major in 1997 instead of criticising his decisions that the Conservatives would not have lost on the scale they did? The bigger the loss, the more they would have to fight to regain ground in the next election. From a Labour perspective this decision is incredibly stupid.

  18. You obviously did not read my previous post.This is a long play.

  19. A ballot would be a good thing if it is decisive either way. I for one hope that Gordon Brown does step down in favour of a younger person such as David Milliband which would give the party a renewed vigour and a better chance at the next election.

  20. I am not sure what the Yougov/Sun poll well tell us as it seems to have polled nearly all the Conservative posters on and as always I was not polled .

  21. The You Gov representative stated on Sky that there is a poll out tonight which The Sun has commissioned which was taken before this news broke. However, he did also say that there will be another poll taken during this next couple of days. When you see the way the plotters are plaguing Gordon the old saying “Whatever you sow that shall ye also reap” certainly brings home the prophecy and certainty of the saying. Please don’t anyone feel sorry for Gordon Brown this is his harvest time.

  22. I have never counted GH or PH among the leading political thinkers of the age.

  23. @ Glenn Otto

    I agree with your view that this is a fight for the future of the Labour party. But I’d say this:

    1) It suggests a certain defeatist “we’ve lost, who cares how many” attitude that speaks volumes about the incohesion of the PLP in action, if not in future direction.

    2) I’d argue that the leadership battle should happen directly after the election; the 1997 rout unexpectedly destroyed the careers of many Tories (e.g. Portillo) expected to form a Shadow Cabinet, chucking them out of office. The landscape will be changed, and Labour can’t choose its future until the election tells it what options are still viable.

  24. @GLEN OTTO
    I read your comment Glen and it makes very good sense.
    Yes, it does remind me of the then Air Vice Marshal Arthur Harris’s reaction when told about the blitz on Coventry in the winter of 1941. “They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.”

  25. I listened tp Patricia Hewitt on World at One claiming that she and Hoone were acting in the best interests of the Labour Party.

    I find such hypocracy breathtaking. Is she standing at the next election or was she one of the many caught with her nose in the trough?

    It will be interesting to see if the next polls show a decline in Labour support. No doubt Hewitt and Hoone will say it’s nothing to do with them.

  26. Around 20 Labour MPs can be counted as already supporting the coup if you include past statements. They need 70 to trigger an election. The Tories will be hoping the numbers reach about 40 but then got stuck.

  27. I totally agree with Cap’n Scooby & several other contributors. Even if this move had any merit, this is emphatically not the time for it. Most Labour Party members do not want the return of the uber-Blairites, and there is no evidence that it would boost the party in the polls anyway. Nor do I think that all party members have given up on the election, certainly not in terms of at least depriving Cameron of an overall majority. Get back into your box Hoon & Hewitt, if you’re reading this.

    I am a Constituency Labour Party chairman writing in a personal capacity.

  28. From @Kevin_Maguire on twitter:

    “Sun poll has Cam lead narrowing”

  29. Shades of MacBeth here: a man who comes to power dirtily will lose power dirtily. Brown is essentially reaping what he and his allies sowed back in 2006-2007, when they took out Blair when the pro-Blairties * thought they still had at least a few more years of Tony to enjoy.

    This has come at the worst possible time for Labour, when they need to be challenging the Tories on the Conservative January policy-blitzkrieg. Instead, they’ll be presenting a hopelessly divided and bitter party where the front bench and the back benches don’t like each other (the back-benches are dominated by pro-Blair Blairites and Old Labour folk, while the front benches are dominated by pro-Brown Blairites).

    I thought Labour would poll about 30% (humiliatingly poor and appaling, but not totally awful) but they seem to be doing their best to drive towards 20%, by any means necessary.

    * There is no difference between Brown’s variation of Blairism and Blair’s except one features Tony Blair as leader and the other features Gordon Brown as leader.

  30. If Cap’n Scooby thinks there are six months to the general election he needs to check his calendar.

  31. I can hardly believe that this is really happening!
    If I hadn’t seen it on the BBC website, I would not believe it.
    Some senior members of the Labour Party have taken leave of their senses.
    They are running a significant risk of looking more divided even than the 1983 Labour Party, of getting a worse result and of being overtaken by the Liberal Democrats.

  32. The plotters desperately need some new names. Otherwise it just looks like a re-run of the last couple of coup attempts.

  33. I was surprised by the timing of this, as my view is that there is some evidence that recent polls are at the least contradictory, but with some signs that Labour is edging upwards. The reaction to Tory activity this week has not been brilliant, and now two former rather poor ex Ministers have decided to have a pop at Brown. If they didn’t like Brown, they should have stood against him when Blair stood down or moved against him last summer.
    If there is any kind of cheer from polls in the next few days for Labour it looks like this will be a 24hr news story that fizzles out. I’m not sure about any long term impact – we all know elements of the party want brown out. Much more important will be the economy and how Brown and Cameron perform.

  34. Rumours on PoliticalBetting that the YouGov poll tonight for The Sun will show a Conservative lead in single figures.

  35. @ Andy Stidwell

    I think it best to look at the polls again in a couple of days time when the Brown revolt takes time to sink in.

  36. It looks to be over.

    I wonder if it will be good for Brown in the Polls?

    He does begin to look like Teflon Man .

    If the YouGov Poll does show a Labour improvement & predates the coup attempt, then the post coup Poll mentioned on TV by Peter Kellner should be a clincher. If that also showed no cost to Labour, Cameron will need to put his thinking cap on.

  37. Like I said before, the chance to change leadership was before the PBR. However bad Labour MPs may think the GE result might be, I think they realise that the internecine war that would ensue would make things even worse. If Brown wouldn’t go nuclear, Balls certainly would.

    I think the Spectator Coffee House sums it up best in their piece “Losing The Plot.”

    “There are German operas that lasted longer than today’s Hoon-Hewitt plot.”

    “You feel the Tories should take Labour mps on a Regicide for Beginners away-day and teach them the basics.”

  38. I just have a strange feeling that this will have a sting in the tail-for Cammo.

    Hope I’m wrong.

  39. @Colin “I wonder if it will be good for Brown in the Polls? He does begin to look like Teflon Man”.

    For a while I’ve had similar thoughts, particularly around the time of the ‘Sun letter’ issue. While Brown is clearly unpopular in many ways among many people, he has obviously picked up the ‘I’m a fighter’ line and is using it. There almost comes a point when seeing him fight against the sheer weight of odds against him makes people sit up and take notice, especially if there are lingering doubts about Cameron. I hate commenting on poll rumours, as they can be spectacularly wrong, but if the YG poll does show movement towards Labour I will say I predicted something similar on an earlier thread this week. This is why I found the plot timing so baffling. I wouldn’t be too surprised if it acts to bind Labour together, and while not actually giving Brown a boost, it will finally nail the issue until after the GE.

  40. YouGov does indeed show the lead narrowing further…

  41. If the Sun YouGov does show the Con’s lead in single figures, then the Cons are in trouble. They’ll be hoping for a bump from their poster campaign.

    Nor can they rely on damage being done to Labour by this Hoon/ Hewitt distraction. So far, it’s been much less dramatic than the Purnell resignation.

    I’m looking past this Sun YouGov poll; it’ll be the next round that matters regarding this issue.

  42. Hi Chris C

    “YouGov does indeed show the lead narrowing further…”

    Do you have any numbers yet? Please post them if you do. Thanks :-)

  43. I’ve always felt Brown is ok. I rather like the grit and gravitas persona. I realise this puts me in an uber-minority in the country. I think this call to arms will fizzle out. The rebels always seem to be two bit players on the Z List. Certainly it’s interesting. Getting excited about seeing the next polls. Sad or what!

  44. Amber Star

    I agree we need to see a few polls to work out how the public have responded to what I understand the media are referring to as “marriagegate” and the “snowplot” – personally I’d vote to execute sub-editors!

    We’ll find out soon, but a reduction in lead wouldn’t necessarily mean trouble for the Tories if both Lab/Con are down while LD/Others is up.

    Interesting being a political geek! :-)

  45. Old Nat

    It is indeed interesting (for geeks).

    I incline to the opposite view than the Con PR team. I think a good party with an unpopular leader can be elected; especially if they are the incumbents.

    I think the Cons have invested too much in Cameron to the detriment of the party; the giant poster is going a bit too far, IMO.

    I’d like to know what the YouGov poll has for voting intentions post poster, so to speak.

  46. Predictions anyone?

    I’m going with a 39/31/18

    Feeling pretty confident for labour actually, the cons have had an awful week.

  47. I have no doubt that if Brown quietly stepped aside and Alan Johnson took over then Labour would do much better.

    This was polled earlier in the year when tories had a bigger lead and with them running against Brown they had a healthy majority when against Alan Johnson it was a hung parliament.

    I am convinced also that had Labour had John Smith as leader in 1992 they would have won. Gallup poll then had Smith doing 6 percent better than Kinnock.

    Brown will do very bad in marginals in England and someone like Alan Johnson could lessen that.

    The last thing in the world the tories would want is Brown to go quietly and have Alan Johnson take over with a united labour party. Labour still has deep splits between the blair and brown factions from the way Blair was forced out in 2006. Johnson would have a far better time uniting Labour than Brown.

    You could have had a leadership contest done in a month and then still had three months to the election with the debates and the whole campaign.

    It would have also catch the tories flat footed as their campaign is based on Brown as leader. Even Brown’s supporters admit privately they would do better with another leader.

  48. If the YouGov poll does show a single-digit lead for the Conservatives, this will probably be as a result of the unfair and partial attempts of some sections of the media (notably the BBC) to create difficulties for the Tories earlier in the week. The nearer we get to the GE, the more voters will recoil at the idea of five more years of Brown. Labour have nothing to fight the next election on: any recovery now is temporary.

    If Alan Duncan and Ann Widdecombe tried to fillet Cameron in the way the Labour twosome have treated Brown, I wonder what sort of doomsday for conservatism you would be predicting?

  50. There was a poll I saw recentlly where they measure the satisfaction among labour party members and Brown was only at something like 54 percent. That shows the deep divisions inside labour between blair and brown factions.

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