The divided mood among Labour MPs matches that of party members on a number of key issues. On Trident, there is little enthusiasm for replacing the system with an equally powerful successor. Yet only a minority want Britain to leave the nuclear club. The views of MPs have been on public display; those of party members emerge from a detailed survey by YouGov.
Our sample comprised two-thirds of Labour’s electoral college – 585 party members and 662 levy-paying members of those unions affiliated to the Labour Party. (Some 136 respondents belonged to both groups.) On Trident, just 23 per cent want a full successor. Not many more, 31 per cent, want ministers to go down the unilateralist route. The biggest number, 40 per cent, think Britain should “retain a minimum nuclear system, but it should be less powerful and cost less than Trident”.
These figures reflect a deeper truth. After ten years of Labour rule and declining membership, those who remain can best be described as lukewarm modernisers. Most reject old nostrums of the left, but only a minority are genuine enthusiasts for the Blairite agenda. Take equality. Just 20 per cent of party members think that, after ten Brown Budgets, the system is now “broadly fair”. So, do most want much more redistribution? No: that is backed by only 29 per cent. As many as 49 per cent take the middle view – that the system should be made “a little more redistributive”. As a label, the “Third Way” drowned some years ago in a sea of mockery; as a concept, however, it seems to live on in the mood of constituency Labour parties.
None the less, there remains considerable appetite for tax-and-spend: 56 per cent of the members agree that “so much needs to be done to improve public services and reduce poverty that the overall tax burden needs to rise”, while just 34 per cent say “it’s important to encourage enterprise, and it would do more harm than good to increase the overall tax burden”. Union levy-payers are more sceptical: they divide equally, 45 per cent on each side.
An even bigger party-union divide emerges on climate change. By two to one, party members back higher taxes on petrol and airline flights. Union members disagree: supporters of higher green taxes are outnumbered by those saying “taxes on private motoring and air travel are high enough already”. That’s a classic example of the age-old division between vanguard opinion (party members) and the popular mood (trade unionists).
Party members and trade unionists deliver a mixed verdict on Tony Blair as he enters his last weeks as party leader. Just over half the party membership (56 per cent) and barely a quarter of union levy-payers (26 per cent) say he has done a “good” or “outstanding” job as Prime Minister. As for Gordon Brown’s reputation, 80 per cent (party) and 50 per cent (unions) rate highly his performance as Chancellor.
Iraq has clearly blighted Blair’s standing with activists, as well as with the general public. Some 41 per cent of party members agree he has been “George W Bush’s poodle” – a figure that rises to 64 per cent among those trade unionists with a vote on Blair’s successor. So will Brown be able to escape the shadow of Iraq? Not necessarily. The events of the past four years have not only blighted Blair’s standing; they have made it politically inconceivable for Brown to back an equivalent attack on Iran, even if the dangers posed by Tehran were more severe than those posed by Saddam Hussein’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”.
YouGov asked what the government should do if the US were to launch an attack “in order to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Only 7 per cent think the UK should send troops in support; 34 per cent back what might be termed the Wilson Vietnam option – neither send troops nor condemn the Americans. Fully 52 per cent say that we should “publicly condemn the American attack”.
It is plain Brown will move next door to work at No 10 with the goodwill of most activists. But he will have to tread with care if he wants to reconnect with members and trade unionists, and rebuild bridges so poorly maintained during much of the past ten years.
Peter Kellner is chairman of YouGov