A key part of David Cameron’s strategy has clearly been to move perceptions of the Conservative party towards the centre, to dominate the centre ground of politics in the same way that Tony Blair has for the last decade. The full tables from YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph contain a set of questions on this that suggest Cameron is seen as more centrist than his predecessor, but is nowhere near the sort of political position that Tony Blair achieved.
Prior to the last election YouGov asked people to rate the political leaders on a left-right scale, and converted the answers into a numerical scale with -100 being far-left, 0 being the centre and +100 being far-right. The average score for the public was -2, with Tony Blair only slightly to the right at +7. Gordon Brown and Charles Kennedy were both slightly left-wing at -20, but Michael Howard was seen as off to the right on +53.
YouGov asked the same questions for this month’s Telegraph poll. Tony Blair (+4) is still seen as almost the same as the public themselves (+2). Perceptions of Gordon Brown are almost unchanged on -21. With an average score of +35 David Cameron is seen as significantly closer to the centre ground than Michael Howard was. David Cameron is also seen as more centrist than his party’s MPs in general (+35 as opposed to +53), but not to the same extent as Tony Blair (+4 as opposed to -27 for Labour MPs).
So, while he is seen as more centrist than Michael Howard, Cameron is still clearly identified as a right-wing figure, especially when compared to Tony Blair. Once Gordon Brown becomes Labour leader the picture (and perhaps politics as a whole) becomes more interesting – we will have two party leaders who are clearly identified by the public as being left-wing and right-wing respectively, after two elections when the political competition has been seen by the public as the centre vs the right, these figures suggest that the Brown vs Cameron contest will be seen as left vs right.
Of course, the poll should also be something of a disappointment to the Conservatives, for it highlights just how far David Cameron has to go to achieve to sort of political positioning that Tony Blair managed. Perhaps once Blair himself has disappeared from the political scene Cameron or Brown will be able to claim the centre ground for themselves, or perhaps it is a testament to Tony Blair’s remarkable dominance of recent British politics.