An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph has voting intentions (with changes from the last ICM poll) of CON 33% (-2), LAB 40% (+3), LDEM 19% (+2). Far from the slight drop in the most recent ICM poll representing the end of Gordon Brown’s bounce, it has clearly continued to gather strength in the last week. The 7 point lead for Labour is the largest in an ICM poll since September 2005 and would presumably result in an increased majority if repeated at a general election. On the subject of which, the newspaper coverage of the polls is predictably in the context of whether a snap autumn election is now on the cards – I suspect this is rather too soon: we now have a better idea about the first question we should be asking ourselves about the Brown bounce – how high it will go (to a seven point Labour lead – at least), but still have no clue as to how long it will last, and where it will settle once it is over.

The poll also asked about the possible Conservative policy of recognising marriage in the tax system. There was strong agreement that it was better for parents to be married (70% agreed) and 57% thought it was right for ministers to encourage marriage. However people were far more divided on whether this should be through tax incentives – 49% agreed, 44% were opposed.

A second ICM poll for the News of World (I say second poll, they were actually the same poll with both the Sunday Telegraph and News of the World both having some questions) has the rather suspicious figures of CON 28%, LAB 35%, LDEM 13%. Unless the “others” have jumped to 24% this is not a straight voting intention poll. It appears to have been a “which party do you feel warmest towards”. If these are the straight results from the poll they don’t tell us much, we know that party identification is about these levels – if not and, as implied by a comment from Ian Kirby on Iain Dale’s site, the News of the World have tried to do something clever and approximate a voting intention result by buggering about with recalled vote, why bother with faked voting intention when you’ve got proper figures from the same poll – ignore.

UPDATE: The News of the World data has been published on ICM’s site, with an admonition that “This poll has been reported in some places as containing standard ICM vote intentions. This is not the case, and ICM method vote intentions (state of the parties) should not, and cannot be inferred from this poll.” The actual question asked was “Now that Gordon Brown has taken over, and faces David Cameron for the Conservatives and Ming Campbell for the Liberal Democrats, do you feel that you are becoming warmer to the idea of supporting…..” and the high number of people not saying they felt warmer towards any of the parties was because 11% of people said their feelings weren’t moving.

The actual breaks in the question contain some interesting trends – of people who voted Conservative in 2005, 4% now feel warmer towards Labour and 3% feel warmer towards the Lib Dems. Of people who voted Labour in 2005, 11% now feel warmer towards the Tories, with 6% feeling warmer towards the Lib Dems. Of people who voted Lib Dem in 2005, 19% feel warmer towards the Tories, 23% feel warmer towards Labour. Intersting in itself, but obviously not a proxy for voting intention.

I said a couple of weeks ago that one of the really important considerations about the Brown handover will be whether or not it addresses the public desire for a change. ICM found that 38% of people thought that “Labour under Gordon Brown feels like a new government with a new direction”, but 55% thought “Labour under Gordon Brown feels like a change of faces, and that is about it”. A better finding for Brown was that 50% of people now expect the government to perform better under his leadership than Tony Blair’s, with only 27% disagreeing.

The Sunday Mirror apparently has a new ICM poll with headline voting intentions, with changes from the ICM/Guardian poll taken at the end of last week, of CON 35%(nc), LAB 37%(-2), LDEM 17%(-1).

This means Labour’s lead is down two points from last week, apparently (and somewhat bizarrely) to the benefit of others – though I expect it’s far less straightforward than that and is due to churn between parties, won’t votes and falling Labour certainty to vote. More to the point, the two point change isn’t necessarily significant at all.

It shouldn’t be a particular surprise to find Labour down slightly anyway, the last polls were taken in the days immediately following Gordon Brown becoming PM when he was receiving blanket coverage on the television, and that initial publicity burst at least should have begun to subside. It is still difficult to say what the future holds. Still, for what little it is worth it is our first indication of the direction of movement. It does also suggest a continuing squeeze for the Lib Dems – 17% equals the lowest level of support they’ve recorded in an ICM poll since the election, and is from the pollster who normally gives them their highest figures.


All the polls since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister have shown Labour once again enjoying a lead over the Conservatives – it looks indisputable that Labour have received a boost from their change in leader. The question is whether it will last – is this a temporary effect of the blanket positive publicity that Gordon Brown was receiving when the most recent polls were conducted, or a short term effect of enthused Labour supporters and public goodwill towards the new man in the job, or is it a longer term change with Gordon Brown acting as the new broom transforming a Labour administration that had become stale and unpopular?

Few of the present pollsters were around when John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister mid-term, and none of them have figures available from Callaghan, Douglas-Home, Macmillan or Eden’s mid-term takeovers of power. If we look back at Gallup’s figures from each of those handovers though we can see what sort of pattern the boosts those Prime Minister’s received in the polls followed.


Sir Anthony Eden was perhaps the most comparable accession to that of Gordon Brown. Eden was the obvious heir apparent forced to wait long after he thought he should have had the prize, who finally acceeded to the premiership without any form of contest (not, of course, that Tory leaders underwent formal contests in those days anyway). On the other hand, the 1950s were of course a very different era of politics, with television coverage of politics in its infancy. In March 1955 the Conservatives had been at 46% in the polls. Eden succeeded in April and by May the Conservatives were up to 51%. It was a very short lived boost in the polls – by July the Tories were back down to 47% and heading downwards, but during the brief honeymoon Eden had successfully fought a general election and secured an increased majority. Harold Macmillan’s accession to the premiership in January 1957 resulted in no boost in the polls whatsover – they continued on exactly the same downwards course as before the handover (the bump in the polls a few months earlier, incidentally, is the Suez Crisis, with the public rallying to the support of the government).


Six years later and we have Sir Alec Douglas-Home replacing Harold Macmillan. Here we have the least expected handover – where everyone knew that Anthony Eden would replace Churchill (and Gordon Brown replace Blair), few could have forseen Home replacing Macmillan. Whether he recived a boost in the polls or not is difficult to say, certainly the Conservatives were at 33% in the polls in September 1963, and by November were at 37%, from where they continued to rise all the way to the 1964 election which they narrowly lost. There is no great leap after Home took over, was it the effect of a new broom, or was it a gradual recovery of Tory fortunes that would have happened anyway? It’s impossible to say, and perhaps it is pointless to try and draw comparisons from so long ago anyway – let’s look at the two more recent handovers.


Here we can see Gallup polls from April 1976 when Jim Callaghan succeed Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. Like Gordon Brown Callaghan was a very well known figure who had been at the heart of the previous Labour government, and like Brown he was suceeding a Prime Minister who – too some extent at least – was leaving at a time of his own choosing. Having been on 41%, three points behind the Conservatives, in March 1976, in the month Callaghan became leader Labour overtook the Conservatives to reach 46% in the polls, a five point lead. It was to be very short-lived indeed though, and Labour fell back to 41% and back behind the Tories the very next month. The briefest of honeymoons then for Callaghan, which brings us to the last handover before Blair/Brown…


John Major was Chancellor of the Exchequer before becoming Prime Minister, but he had been in the role for only a year, and a senior cabinet minister for only 15 months, when he succeeded to the role, so was still little known to the public, still a new face. Unlike Gordon Brown he was also by no means the beneficiary of a smooth transition from a willingly departing Prime Minister, rather Margaret Thatcher had been brutally despatched by her own party. The turmoil unleashed by that has arguably haunted the Conservative Party for most of the past 17 years, but it cannot helped but to have underlined that the new administration was a change, a traumatic break from what had gone before, rather than a seemless handover. In Gallup’s poll at least (ICM shows an almost identical pattern, MORI a slightly more gradual one) John Major becoming Prime Minister gave the Conservatives a dramatic boost in the polls, up from 31.5% in October 1990 to 44% in November 1990. The Tories stayed at that level for four months before Major’s honeymoon began to subside, looking at the graph it looks as though the Major honeymoon lasted all the way to June 1991 before settling. Unfortunately, we can’t ascribe this jump in the polls all to John Major’s new leadership, since it also corresponds with the first Gulf War – we can be confident that the initial jump in the polls was a Major boost, but its longevity could just as much be due to the people rallying to the support of the government at a time of war.

So what does history tell us? Unfortunately we have both scenarios in the past – in 1963 there was a change of leader that seemed to result in the Conservative government gaining support, and then continuing to get more and more popular with a new hand on the tiller. In 1990 we have a new Prime Minister taking over, receiving a huge jump in the polls and enjoying a honeymoon that stretched well into the following year, albeit one helped by a successful war. In 1976 we have a new Prime Minister taking over, enjoying a jump in the polls that once again put their party into the lead, but seeing it rapidly disappear again the very next month. It’s still impossible to say what sort of pattern Gordon Brown’s boost will follow.

Populus’s July poll for the Times has a similar boost to Labour’s support as that seen in YouGov and ICM’s polls over the weekend, putting Labour back in the lead for the first time since April 2006 in a Populus poll. The headline figures, with changes from last month, are CON 34% (-2), LAB 37% (+4), LDEM 18% (+1).

The Conservative’s most powerful card at the next election will be “time for a change”. Put aside personalities, specific policies and so on – the four big messages that win or lose an election are “Let us finish what we started”, “Don’t let them ruin it”, “Their policies won’t work” and “Time for a change”. If the idea that it is time for a change takes hold in the publics’ minds, there will be precious little Labour can do to stop themselves being swept away.

In September last year ICM found that 70% of people thought it was time for a change. What Labour need to hope is that replacing Tony Blair with Gordon Brown is enough of a change to meet that public demand. Clearly they are doing their best to portray a message of change – Gordon Brown used the word ‘change’ eight times in his first statement as PM, the cabinet reshuffle changed all but one post. Will it be enough?

An ICM poll for the BBC’s Sunday Politics show, conducted on Thursday and Friday, so largely after the cabinet reshuffle, found that 13% thought the Brown government would be a big change for the better, 26% thought it would be a small change for the better. 15% thought it would be a change for the worse. 40% of people thought it would be “no real change at all”.

The YouGov poll in the Telegraph on Saturday asked a very similar question – 30% thought Brown would be a positive change, 17% a negative change, 41% no change at all.

Should those figures be taken as good news or bad news for Gordon Brown? Only somewhere between 30-40% of people think he will be a positive change, but at least a majority think he will be a change. The real test will be if the pollsters ask that “time for a change” question again in a couple of months time, and we see how much the demand for change has been sated.

Meanwhile, the first Scottish poll since the Scottish Parliament elections, carried out by YouGov for the SNP has shares of the constituency vote at CON 14%, LAB 31%, LDEM 12%, SNP 38%. At the regional level support stands at CON 14%, LAB 28%, LDEM 10%, SNP 33%, Greens 7%, SSP 5%, Solidarity 1%.