Johnson and Coulson

Two big resignations this week – Alan Johnson and Andy Coulson. What will be the impact? The immediate one will be virtually nil. People watching the Westminister bubble tend to consistently over-estimate the impact of comparatively minor gaffes and scandals, the public’s awareness of the stories or even the existance of the people involved. The important impacts are the long term ones.

Taking Coulson first, it is unlikely to change people’s perception of the government, Cameron or the coalition. It fact, it really won’t have an impact on public opinion at all – most people making a fuss will be those with a negative opinion to start with. However, it does rob David Cameron of a close and valued advisor (and indeed, the figure in his inner circle with the least privileged, most “normal” background) – if there is an long term impact from Coulson’s resignation, this will be it.

Secondly there is Alan Johnson – here there are more obvious impacts on public opinion. The circumstances around Johnson’s resignation itself are not – it seems Johnson himself is blameless, and even if he weren’t, it would again be tomorrow’s chip paper with four years to go. Rather the question is what Labour have lost in the departure of Alan Johnson, and what the prospects are for Ed Balls.

Johnson had made some gaffes in recent days but these wouldn’t necessarily have been noticed by ordinary people. Johnson was seen comparatively positively by the public – in December 34% saw him as an asset for the Labour party and only 20% a liability, giving him a better rating than any other senior Labour figure. Despite being seen by political commentators as perhaps not up to the role, the public didn’t have him far behind George Osborne as best Chancellor (25% Osborne, 21% Johnson) – though that may be just as much about poor perceptions of Osborne. In short, Alan Johnson is a loss for Labour.

That brings us to Ed Balls. Here things are more balanced. The positives are quite clear – Ed Balls is a combatitive and capable politician with a solid economic background, who will no doubt do a very good job in attacking George Osborne and the government’s economic policy. The downsides are trickier – polls suggest Balls is not seen very positively. 28% of people see him as an asset for Labour, but 32% see him as a liability, significantly more than the man he replaces (though not the man he is going to shadow, who the same figures suggest is seen by the public as a comparatively weak link on the Tory front bench)

More significantly though will be the impact upon how Labour are seen and upon their future strategy. Balls is seen as extremely close to Gordon Brown, and as being opposed to the need for cuts (or at least, this is how the media currently see him and how the Conservatives will attempt to paint him)

On New Year’s Eve I wrote a round up piece on the challenges facing Labour – essentially looking at the underlying weaknesses that Miliband needed to take the opportunity of a poll lead to address. I won’t repeat too much of it here, but will just pick out a couple of poll findings I cited back then, taken from a poll in September 2010, which reflect the sort of image problems facing Labour. Back then 69% agreed that “Labour need to make major changes to their policies and beliefs to be fit for government again”, 60% agreed “Labour still haven’t faced up to the damage they did to the British economy”, 47% thought that “If Labour returned to government they would put the country into even more debt”.

We asked it again earlier this month to see if Ed Miliband had made any difference to negative perceptions of the Labour party yet. The answer is not much – 65% still think Labour need to make major changes to their policies (including 45% of Labour voters!), 58% still think Labour haven’t faced up to the damage they did to the economy, 47% still think they would put the country back into debt were they to return to government.

Labour have a good lead in the polls and my expectation is that it will get bigger in the coming months, Ed Miliband has the strategic choice of whether to gamble on the coalition remaining unpopular and just hammering away at the cuts and reaping the rewards of opposing them, or using the luxury of a poll lead to reposition Labour to a more opportune position should the economy improve and the cuts not be a disaster. Conservatives pleased with the appointment of Balls seem to be working on the assumption that the appointment of Ed Balls signifies Miliband is going down the first route, though we shall see.


184 Responses to “Johnson and Coulson”

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  1. For those interested in “polls of polls” [many are not] OR
    For those interested in “Scottish polls” [many are not]

    I have Scottish VI since May [Holyrood]

    a) Constituency

    42% [red]
    32% [purple]
    13% [blue]
    10% [yellow]

    b) Regional

    39% [red]
    30% [purple]
    12% [blue]
    10% [yellow]

    And my own penny’s worth on those figures is that they are a) slightly too high for red b) slightly too high for yellow. But by all means ignore that.

  2. Somewhere on this thread I wondered what would the effect on polls if Coulson goes to jail. If there was any effect, would it be of the seismic variety or the drip drip variety.

    I am often confused by voter concerns. Is it really true that in the end the majority of people vote based on their own economic situation?

  3. Anthony,

    A very interesting poll from CoMRes on Europe related matters [sample size 2000+]

    http://ht.ly/3HkLb

  4. This local by election result got picked up on the Wythenshawe and Sale East page, but I don’t think it has been mentioned here.

    Thursday 20 January 2010

    Labour 996 (70.8%)
    Conservative 160 (11.4%)
    UKIP 76 (5.4%)
    Liberal Democrats 52 (3.7%)
    BNP 52 (3.7%)
    Green Party 51 (3.6%)
    Independent 19 (1.4%)

    (Turnout: 12.9%)

    For comparison, here is the 5 May 2010 result for the same ward:

    Labour and Co-operative 2263 (47.1%)
    Liberal Democrats 1178 (24.5%)
    Conservative 777 (16.2%)
    UKIP 329 (6.8%)
    Green Party 134 (2.8%)
    Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 128 (2.6%)

    (Turnout: 44.9%)

    I calculate the swing from LidDem to Labour as 22.3%. The LibDems have dropped from second to joint fourth. This is not a good result at all for the LibDems.

    Of course one should be careful reading too much into individual by election results, as there are often factors other then national VI at play (in this case the turnout was low and while LibDems came second in this ward in 2010, historically they’ve been the third party there). Nonetheless, it does seem to fit the general pattern emerging from local by election results, of a greatly reduced level of LibDem support.

  5. 4.Brian Cowen has just quit as leader of Fianna Fáil. This will necessitate the election of a new leader to carry them into the March 11 election. A new leader offers the hope that they will save quite a number of seats. It may also prevent Labour and Fine Gael getting the majority they need to form a coalition. On the face of it this seems unlikely but the new leader will enjoy a lot of unprecedented exposure. There are some popular faces in Fianna Fáil who have been quite critical of the PM. If Lenihan takes the job, he will certainly save as much as 40 if not 50 of the Fianna Fáil seats. The immediate loser could well be Fine Gael and Labour who until now where fighting it out to be the largest party at the next election. Cowen is such a hate figure now in ROI politics that he could take a lot of the poison away from FF if he went quietly. Will he? Yes I think he will. Sinn Féin will be very excited by all of these developments. Although it means they will win win less seats at the next election, it means the result is sure to be tighter. Inevitably, this increases even the smaller parties bargaining power. If there is one feature that dominates Irish politics, it is behind the scenes bargaining.

  6. The should of course have said the 6 May 2010, not 5 May.

  7. And the year of the by election was 2011, not 2010!

  8. And it would have helped if i’d said where the by election was held. It was in Baguley ward in the City of Manchester.

    If only there was an edit function here. I’ll repost a corrected version of the whole thing!

  9. [Corrected Version]
    This local by election result got picked up on the Wythenshawe and Sale East page, but I don’t think it has been mentioned here.

    Baguley Ward, City of Manchester, Thursday 20 January 2011

    Labour 996 (70.8%)
    Conservative 160 (11.4%)
    UKIP 76 (5.4%)
    Liberal Democrats 52 (3.7%)
    BNP 52 (3.7%)
    Green Party 51 (3.6%)
    Independent 19 (1.4%)

    (Turnout: 12.9%)

    For comparison, here is the 6 May 2010 result for the same ward:

    Labour and Co-operative 2263 (47.1%)
    Liberal Democrats 1178 (24.5%)
    Conservative 777 (16.2%)
    UKIP 329 (6.8%)
    Green Party 134 (2.8%)
    Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 128 (2.6%)

    (Turnout: 44.9%)

    I calculate the swing from LidDem to Labour as 22.3%. The LibDems have dropped from second to joint fourth. This is not a good result at all for the LibDems and is perhaps reflective of the collapse in their support nationally.

    Of course one should be careful reading too much into individual by election results, as there are often factors other then national VI at play (in this case the turnout was low and while LibDems came second in this ward in 2010 historically they’ve been the third party there). Nonetheless, it does seem to fit the general pattern emerging from by election results, of a greatly reduced level of LibDem support.

  10. @TheGreenBenches

    Thanks for the heads-ups above. Cannot comment much (am at work), but off the top of my head:

    * Scotland: colorcoding for Scotland is a nightmare, since SNP are coded yellow and LD coded gold (which looks like yellow). For purposes of disambiguation, you may find it easier to use the names, not colour schemes.

    * EU: skimmed your ComRes link – chr**t, what a nightmare – first question was “Britain’s contribution to the EU is £48 million a day and may increase further following a deal the Prime Minister agreed in Brussels last month. Do you agree or disagree with…” and it just got worse from there – I suppose it’s better that “The EU smells like poo. Do you agree or disagree with…”, but not by much.

    * Ireland: Cowen’s decision is the best for his party. FF will still not win (they’re too deep in the s*** for that), but they now stand a chance of not being too devastated to survive. Cowen is an intelligent man caricatured as a buffoon, who put his country before his party and his party before himself. In short, the exact opposite of Brown… :-)

    Regards, Martyn

  11. @Eoin

    Re: Brian Cowen

    It all seems far too late and anyway any new leader is unlikely to be able to change course, as the terms of the bailout have already been agreed.

    OT: SkyNews this morning pondered whether theabsence of the Coulson storey on the front page of the english red-tops suggested they may all have been involved in phone hacking.

  12. hmmm

    Heads will roll. Jail the lot of them.

    (after a fair trial with evedence and stuff, of course)

  13. Spelling…

  14. @Roger Mexico – “… polling attic”

    Apologies, I can’t find the Telegraph link, they gave some prominence to this polling 16-17 Jan, which shows Clegg more popular than any other cabinet member except Hague – among Tories:

    h ttp://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5h2kW7kHo0m3tfxMMeuWd94crH1hg?docId=N0230401295388642730A

    Not long ago they were saying Miliband was more popular than Clegg among LDs.

    Seems a very basic dynamic, who’s in and who’s out from day to day.

    Btw, the dogs on the street are well worth listening to… they’re saying even the office cat at NoW knew what was going on. ;)

  15. The office cat? Isn’t that now hunting th Downing Street rat?

    (Cameron doesn’t see why the feline should suffer twice for the same, er, non-offence).

  16. Quoted elsewhere (I was in the pub):

    Andrew Neil (rightwing political commentator) on Newsnight yesterday:

    “The real story is not Coulson, or Cameron … it’s the apparent collusion between the Met and Murdoch to bury this story.”

  17. @ Martyn

    “Cowen is an intelligent man caricatured as a buffoon, who put his country before his party and his party before himself.”

    And businesses and investors before his country. What a man ;)

  18. greenbenches
    You say that one barrier to a SNP/Tory?LD coalition would be the”stir” amongst SNP MSPs. Can you think of any other occasion when any proposal or act of A Salmond has caused his MSPs to stir?

  19. “Taking Coulson first, it is unlikely to change people’s perception of the government, Cameron or the coalition. It fact, it really won’t have an impact on public opinion at all – most people making a fuss will be those with a negative opinion to start with. However, it does rob David Cameron of a close and valued advisor (and indeed, the figure in his inner circle with the least privileged, most “normal” background) – if there is an long term impact from Coulson’s resignation, this will be it. ”

    This might turn out to be disastrously wrong!

    I wonder if this affair could be like Watergate. It’s the cover up that might do the damage.

  20. So has Brian Cowen put the fail into Fianna Fáil? Ill get my coat…

  21. @ Crossbat11/Nick Hadley

    “My other concern with the current tenor of the political debate is much closer to my heart and that is the mistake that I think Labour is making as an opposition at the moment. Maybe I’ll be proved hopelessly wrong, but I don’t think the soundbites and mantras emanating from most of the party spokesmen and spokeswomen sounds either convincing or persuasive, To me, it all sounds like something horribly cooked up in a spin doctor’s laboratory; arid, repetitive and uninspring. “Too fast, too deep” and”more broken promises” from people “who can’t be trusted on the NHS” are essentially empty soundbites that might secure 10 second slots on TV news bulletins and headlines in tabloids, but they add nothing to the intellectual case that needs to be prosecuted against this current coalition government.”

    Here’s the problem. People like you and I enjoy deep intellectual debates and discussions about public policy. But the average voter doesn’t. The average voter responds to soundbites, on target messaging, and the like. Now that’s not to say that you can’t elect someone who is capable of having those conversations but even then, you still need the soundbites to win (see, e.g., Bill Clinton).

    “You see, my growing despair is this. There is a historic opportunity now emerging, with the centre-left of British politics almost totally vacated by all but Labour. What a chance to make the case for a truly mixed economy, a fairier tax system, a more equal society, a more internationalist foreign policy, a greener economic policy, an education system that enhances the life chances of all not the few, a freer and less monopolised press ownership…the list goes on. This needs inspired and original leadership, the resurrection of what Wilson always said was the essence and purpose of Labour; a crusade for a fairer and more equal Britain. Now, I know that this crusade takes time and thought to develop and articulate, and it’s early days in Miliband’s leadership, but I see no encouraging evidence yet that he isn’t just positioning Labour as a sort of slightly more benign version of Tory managerialism. Maybe, I’m impatient, and it will come with time, but I find it all a bit depressing at the moment.”

    I think you have to give these things time. Miliband hasn’t been on the job that long. I think I read that he’s doing a policy review and even taking on analysts from other parties. It takes time to figure out the type of major policy changes you suggest. It also is problematic to release your entire platform too early or to have major debates within the party.

  22. Alec,
    “Radicalising Middle England”,precisely! For a start the
    Ramblers Association are a very powerful lobbying group
    There was a protest about this in the Forest Of Dean,
    recently, 3000 people attended.Hardly noticed in the press
    of course because it was entirely peaceful.Anyone who
    thinks that people are not concerned about this are wrong..

  23. @Billy (reworded to avoid moderation)

    (still presenting as Blue? Bad person… :-) )

    Fair point. It does have to be said that he made the same mistakes that Brown did (and worse) and that undue influence still exists in Ireland politics. So Cowen isn’t as good as I painted him. But I have a soft spot for smart people who are thought of as stupid, so…

    Regards, Martyn

  24. Barney

    I’ll resist the temptation to reply in kind – in due deference to Anthony.

    However, your comment was not only partisan – but rather petty and silly as well.

  25. OdN,

    Correct.

  26. @ Martyn

    Yes I am still presenting as blue – what can I say, it gets boring just seeing red, yellow and gray :)

  27. “Isn’t that now hunting th Downing Street rat?”

    I couldn’t tell from the images on TC whether the rat was of the ginger rodent kind.

  28. ‘TC’ should be ‘TV’

  29. Greenbenches et al

    If Labour emerge as the largest Holyrood party after the May elections, then I do not think that the SNP will try to cobble together a rainbow coalition. Mainly because of the precedent set after the last elections where the consensus was that Labour had ‘lost’ as they were no longer the largest party. Mr Salmond was particularly vocal on that issue and I think he would find it difficult to row back on it.

    It would therefore fall to Labour to have first attempt at forming a government. Then comes the difficulty. Their old allies the Lib Dems are too toxic to come to a formal arrangement with. The obvious allies – their fellow social democrats in the SNP – are excluded due to a particularly striking example of the law of small differences. The tories we may eliminate from our enquiries.

    That leaves the option of a red/green coalition, possibly including Margot Macdonald (who will be returned as an independent in Edinburgh I would expect) or another minority government. I suspect the latter.

    In passing, though I am not a Tory supporter, I do think the lack of political ‘biodiversity’ in Scotland is a cause for concern. Even under PR the Tories are a fringe. Only Labour/SNP animosity disguises the left hegemony – and prevents it from being put to constructive use.

  30. Latest YouGov/Sunday Times results CON 39%, LAB 43%, LDEM 9%

    Regards, Martyn

  31. @ Crossbat11/Nick Hadley

    “I take your point about the inherent fun of party political point scoring, especially if the party I adhere to has scored the point, but it is essentially trivial by nature and, if endlessly repeated, deeply dispiriting and, for the majority of the public who aren’t blindly loyal party tribalists, ultimately alienating.”

    I thought about this some more. I think that political point scoring ultimately doesn’t make people cynical about politics. Though people do become immune to it after a while. I remember a City Council race where one candidate kept lambasting her opponent and attacking him repeatedly on all sorts of little points. Exasperated after a point, he sent out a mailer where he parodied her mailing where a woman learns that he had kidnapped aliens from outer space. The voters got the message and they elected him decisively.

    I think what makes voters cynical is a feeling that whoever they vote into office is not going to deliver on their promises or will be just as disappointing as the last people in power. In that vain, I don’t think that petty partisan sniping turns voters off so much as it fails to turn them on. Voters aren’t going to vote for one side because they scored a political point, in the end it doesn’t mean that much to them.

  32. I resent the claims of partisanship. I asked a question. When has any SNP MSP ever objected or disagreed with anything the leader has said or done?
    Its a question. It is particularly relevant if the claim is being made that potential dissent limits the actions of the leader. If I am wrong it should be easy to point to those instances when SNP MSPs have expressed contrary opinions or voted against the SNP whip.
    This isn’t difficult with Labour in Scotland or elsewhere

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