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.

ID Cards

Further results from YouGov’s monthly poll for the Telegraph suggest that people largely agree with the arguments against ID cards, but continue to support them. Overall 52% of people support the introduction of ID cards with 37% of people opposed. This is almost identical to the proportions supporting and opposing ID cards after YouGov’s last poll on the subject, taken last Summer.

Having asked people about whether they supported ID cards or not, YouGov gave people a list of arguments for and against ID cards. The pro-arguments met with somewhat mixed support – there was strong agreement that ID cards would help prevent benefit fraud (64% agree) and “health tourism” (62% agree) and with the statement that people with nothing to hide would have nothing to fear from ID cards (60% agree). A majority (55%) of people also thought that ID cards would help the police track down bogus asylum seekers attempting to avoid deportation. People were far more sceptical about whether ID cards would help catch criminals (43% agree, 45% disagree) or help make life more convenient or easier (42% agree, 43% disagree). A clear majority (63%) rejected the suggestion that ID cards would help prevent terrorist atrocities.

On arguments against ID cards, 50% of people thought that machines to read ID cards would often break or fail to read cards accurately and 55% thought a lot of cards would envitably end up containing false information – though given that some error and mechanical breakdown in any project this size would be enevitable, both these questions depend more on respondents’ definition of “often” and “a lot” than anything else. More importantly, 80% of people think that determined criminals would always find a way of forging the cards, 75% think the cards will be far more expensive than the government says, 60% say their introduction will cause huge inconvenience, 71% think the data on people’s cards will not be secure and will be hacked into, sold on, etc and 61% think the data would be passed on to foreign governments.

All in all, people are dubious about the arguments for ID cards, and broadly receptive about the arguments against them. Despite this they continue to support ID cards, implying that people give greater weight to the perceived benefits than the perceived drawbacks – yes, they think ID cards will be expensive, inconvenient and open to abuse, but they want them.


Brown vs Cameron

A new ICM poll in the News of the World asks a number of questions comparing Gordon Brown and David Cameron. As with recent YouGov polls, Brown is preferred to Cameron in a straight choice of who would make the better PM, though he has a larger 12 point lead. This is likely to be because best Prime Minister questions are strongly influenced by party allegiance, and the questions seem to have been asked as part of a standard ICM omnibus poll, which doesn’t weight by past vote unless there are voting intention questions.

The other questions paint what is becoming a fairly familar pattern in polls on Cameron and Brown. Cameron’s strength is in areas like being presentable, helpful, likeable (he has a tiny, but not significant, lead as the man people would rather have dinner with), more likely to buy a round and less arrogant than his opponant. Brown on the other hand is seen as the more trustworthy, more competent (people think he would be better able to manage a family budget) and most in touch.

Two Prime Ministers?

According to YouGov’s monthly poll 47% of people agree that it looks as though Britain currently has two Prime Ministers – Gordon Brown and Tony Blair – and they don’t seem to like it. The seems to be strong support for Blair going sooner rather than later – 36% of people thought that Tony Blair should stand aside for Gordon Brown within the year, with a further 13% wanting Blair to step down next year. Only 23% now want Blair to continue until the end of the Parliament. This isn’t just non-Labour voters playing silly-buggers, 45% of Labour voters want Blair to go this year or next year.

Asked if they think Gordon Brown will make a good Prime Minister people are divided – 36% think he will, 33% think he won’t. Predictably the answers are strongly partisan, 67% of current Labour voters think he will be a good Prime Ministers while only 13% of Tory voters do.

There are also mixed expectations on whether people think Brown will take Labour in a new direction or continue Tony Blair’s policies. 31% think that “he will take the Government in a quite different direction from the one it is now going in”, while 51% think that “it will be pretty much ‘business as usual’”.

Finally YouGov asked respondents if they agreed with a series of statements about the Labour government, and it painted a very bleak picture. 57% think that Labour no longer have a clear sense of direction, 49% think the party is badly divided, 49% think it “looks as though the wheels are falling off the coach”, 60% think it is hard to know what the Labour party stands for anymore and only 31% think the government is still concerned about promoting the welfare of ordinary working people. Together the statements suggest the Labour government’s image is increasingly tarnished – it remains to be seen whether the appointment of a new party leader, presumably Gordon Brown when the time comes, can re-energise and redefine the party.

The poll also highlights another potential problem for the government – every month the YouGov/Telegraph poll also has a question on economic optimism, which normally glides along without much worthy of comment. This month the net economic optimism figure (the so called “feel good factor” – the percentage of people who think things are getting better minus the percentage of people who think they will get worse) has dropped from -19 last month, to -30 this month – the lowest for two years.

David Cameron’s honeymoon as Conservative leader seems to be coming to a close – there is criticism of his strategy from the Thatcherite old guard and murmurs of disquiet from party donors, at the same time the media have started to ask questions rather than bathe in the glory of the Tory wunderkind. So, what do the polls say? Have his first 2 and a half months been a success.

YouGov’s February poll for the Telegraph has the Conservatives back in the lead, with topline figures of CON 38%(+1), LAB 36%(-3), LDEM 18%(+3). As with ICM’s poll earlier this week the Liberal Democrats are now back where they were prior to Charles Kennedy’s resignation, with a consequential drop in Labour support.

The narrow two point lead held by the Conservatives would be enough to deprive Labour of an overall majority, but it is nowhere near the sort of lead the Conservatives would require to win a majority at an election – still, on voting intention Cameron does seem to have made a difference. Prior to last December Conservative support was pretty much stable around a 30-33% range, now they seem to have largely settled around the 37-39% mark.

David Cameron’s early approval ratings were positive, but the same applied to Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith who both rapidly declined once all those people who said “don’t know” decided they didn’t like the new leader after all. The early signs are that David Cameron might not be following the same pattern – the percentage of people telling YouGov they don’t know what they think about Cameron is down from 44% last month to 35% this month and it seems that, unlike his predecessors, they are breaking in his favour. His net approval rating is up from +22 to +27 this month. Of course, this could merely be a “baby boost” from the birth of his third child.

Asked if they agree or disagree with various statements about Cameron, 60% of people agree that, under Cameron, the Conservatives have “aquired a new freshness and vitality” – this includes 47% of Labour voters and 58% of Lib Dem voters. 36% think the Tories under Cameron represent the values and aspirations of the British people better than before and 53% think they have greatly increased their chances of winning the next election. However, the Labour party do seem to have correctly identified David Cameron’s potential weakness – 36% of people agree that David Cameron “flip-flops” and 63% agree that “David Cameron talks a good line but it is hard to know whether there is any substance behind the words” – that includes 51% of Tory voters.

So, how has he done? He’s certainly started to increase the level of Conservative support. He is also a popular leader so far and he seems to be getting more popular as people get to know him. He has certainly given the Conservative party a more postitive image. On the downside, even Conservative voters are wary about whether he means what he says and he may well be vulnerable to charges of flip-flopping.