Populus’s monthly poll for the Times as usual includes a hypothetical question asking how people would vote with Gordon Brown as Labour leader. As usual this shows the Conservative lead growing with Brown as Labour leader – to 11 points – though not as much as last month. What is slightly more interesting is that the lead under David Miliband would be 12 points. On this basis, Brown would perform better than Miliband but only just so, and Miliband is clearly advancing: earlier polls showed Brown performing better than Miliband by a substantial margin (a 13 point deficit compared to a 20 deficit with Miliband).

Now, in themselves I don’t think these polls are particularly meaningful. As I’ve said before, you probably can draw some rough conclusions about present negative perceptions of Brown, but hypothetical questions like this can in no way be a genuine prediction of what will happen once Brown becomes Labour leader. They are even less meaningful when it comes to David Miliband because, unlike Brown who the majority of people know and have formed an impression of, most ordinary people have very little idea of what David Miliband is like and what he stands for (though Populus did find that over half of respondents were able to pick Miliband out of a line up of photos, those who got it wrong did tend to pick Peter Mandleson though!).

Miliband’s advance since last month is probably due to no more than increased name recognition. However, where polls like this may yet be very important is if the trend continues and polls start showing Miliband performing better than Brown would in a hypothetical general election. Whether such polls would be particularly meaningful or not, they would be given huge media coverage and would be yet another bit of pressure behind Miliband to stand for leader.

9 Responses to “Miliband would do almost as well as Brown at a GE?”

  1. This the day after Milliband supposedly ruled himself out of the contest. Does anyone hold any weight in that? Especially were a poll or two to place Milliband ahead of Brown?

  2. It is hard to believe that David Miliband-who strikes me as an intelligent man-will really change his declared intentions and take on Brown for the leadership. He would almost certainly lose and risk spending at least 2-3 years on the back benches. If Labour-as looks increasingly likely- go into opposition after the next GE Miliband may be able to position himself in the centre of the party. If he runs now he may simply be seen as a Blairite- a label which might not do him any favours come any Labour spell in opposition and the likely short term lurch to the left that will follow. Best to play the long game David. Time is on your side.

  3. I agree with Nick. Milliband actually has nothing to lose by not standing against Brown.

    If he did stand, not only would he not win, but he would lose the perks of Ministerial office, whereas if he stays “loyal” to Brown he gets to stay in the cabinet and is well positioned to secure the leadership of the opposition in 2010.

    In the unlikely event that he did actually beat Brown, then yes, he would get to be Prime Minister later this year, but on what terms ?

    Unlike Brown, he could not be confident of holding out to 2010 since he would struggle to hold together a bitterly divided party which would be disintegrating around him. Defections will then start to erode his majority while he would find Bill after Bill lost in parliament. He would be lucky to hold out much past the 2008 local elections (which could include him facing a Tory Mayor in London), and would then be destined for oblivion as the leader who threw away Blair’s legacy.

    By holding out against the sirens, he will actually show himself to be astute and so build his political stature.

  4. Milliband has plenty to lose by not standing. If a week is a long time in politics, years very much are so. In a few years time, Milliband will not be viewed the same as he is now. Having turned down the opportunity to fight to become PM, he may never get the opportunity again.

  5. Perhaps he should wait until Gordon Brown has lost the next General Election, assuming GB will resign after that.

  6. I can’t actually image that, were Miliband to run and lose, Gordon Brown would cast him into outer darkness on the backbenches. There’s a media caricature of Brown as the ultimate grude-bearing, control freak who can’t handle the slightlest challenge to his god-given right to be PM and who would never talk to, let alone give office to, anyone who dared stand against him.

    In reality there might be some small grains of truth in there, but at the same time Brown is a smart politician – he wouldn’t play up to a negative image, nor miss the chance of unifying the party by being generous to serious opponents after a contest. I’m sure he’d offer a senior role in the cabinet to Miliband if he ran and lost.

    Same as people who seemed genuinely surprised that Cameron didn’t sack David Davis after the Conservative leadership election – because it would have been so good for Cameron’s purposes to piss off a third of the party and leave a rival as a glowering focus of discontent on the backbenches. Whatever his faults are, Gordon *isn’t* a moron, so after winning a leadership contest he would want to bring his party together.

  7. Miliband’s advance IS probably due to name recognition, though presumably voters’ awareness of him is still considerably lower than their awareness of Brown. Therefore, could you not suggest that he has much greater potential to close the gap with the Tories than Brown?

    Miliband has an opportunity win, but would be helped immensely with poor Labour results in May and a decent gap between the May elections and Blair announcing his resignation.

  8. So Milliband won’t stand as I thought. It looks increasingly likely regardless of what happens on May 3rd that any plausible candidate will step forward to take on Brown. Neither Reid nor Clarke have organisations in place or the support in the party to mount a serious challenge. I doubt they will try.
    Nobody Anthony thinks Brown is a ‘moron’-only yesterday Cameron remarked that he had an excellent brain but he is patently not a leader of men and he won’t listen. If he had in the past then perhaps we would still have our pensions and our gold reserves!!

  9. Anthony: I agree with you.

    However how serious the will to win a general election can also change between parties. I was impressed in the run-off between Davis and Cameron just how polite and friendly each were to the other. Very little mud thrown, a real sense it seemed that they knew full well that they were the same party and whoever won would be leading their party at the next election.

    That was the first real sign to me that the Tory party had regained a fully serious will to win the election, rather than will to fight and point-score off each other that had cursed the party for over a decade before then.

    A decade ago, Labour had the same united sense of purpose and will to win against the Tories rather than winning against each other. I think Labour has in their time in power lost some of that and if Brown sees his chance at reaching #10 threatened by some “young pretender”, I doubt he will result getting dirty.

    He might not sack Milliband to the backbenches, but he might get his supporters to attack Milliband through various means, and it’d be the 44 names who nominate a challenger I expect would be the ones threatened with revenge afterwards.

    If it wasn’t for the rule requiring 44 names to nominate a candidate, I suspect a serious challenge would be far more likely.