Could Labour win the election?

Tory lead falls to just 2 points.

New Statesman - Polls Guide_1267355604099

Latest poll (Sunday Times/YouGov): Labour nine seats short of a majority.

"Gordon Brown on course to win election" is a headline almost no one would have expected to see at this stage of the electoral cycle. But today's YouGov poll confirms what a terrible start the Conservatives have made to their campaign. It puts the Tories on 37 per cent, just 2 points ahead of Labour, and the party's lowest lead since December 2008.

If the figures were repeated on a uniform swing at the election, Labour would emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament, nine seats short of an overall majority.

The poll is particularly alarming for the Tories for two reasons. First, it suggests that the potential number of Labour voters is far higher than previously thought.

Second, it suggests that the Tories suffer when their policies come under sustained scrutiny. Brown's call for voters to "take a second look at us, and a long, hard look at them" seems to have resonated with the media and the public.How else can we explain the Conservatives' precipitous decline?

New Statesman poll of polls

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Labour 28 seats short of a majority.

As I've pointed out before, the fragile nature of the economic recovery appears to be working in Brown's favour -- it strengthens his argument that immediate spending cuts would damage the economy and upsets the Tories' message. The poll also confirms that the bullying allegations against the PM have done no damage to Labour's support. It may be that the voters actually rather like being led by someone with a bit of a temper.

Brown will surely now be tempted to call an election while the political momentum is with Labour and go to the country in April. But I'd still be surprised if he doesn't plump for 6 May in order to avoid the cost of holding two separate elections.

As a word of caution to Labour optimists, it's worth pointing out that there's still almost no chance of Brown winning an overall majority. Boundary changes mean that Labour's 66-seat majority has fallen to a notional lead of 48. This leaves Cameron with only 24 seats to win to knock off Labour's overall advantage. I expect the Tories still to be leading in the key marginals.

But for Labour to emerge as the largest single party would be an astonishing turnaround. That the Tories are still struggling to defeat a government battered by recession and the expenses scandal is quite remarkable.

Can Cameron lead a successful Tory comeback? He has done so before, of course, in the run-up to the election-that-never was. We'll begin to find out later today.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war