An alert reader pointed us this morning to an Ipsos Mori poll from last week that seemed to escape most of the media’s attention. As well as mirroring numerous recent surveys showing Labour’s lead over the Conservatives collapsing, it asked a rather more specific question.
Long-time readers may recall a piece this site wrote back in September 2012 about the “Kinnock Factor”, a well-documented phenomenon in British politics by which the electorate, when it comes to the crunch of a general election, invariably rejects parties whose leaders it doesn’t like – even if the party itself is well ahead in the polls.
And in that context, Ipsos had nothing but bad news for Ed Miliband.
In response to the question “Do you agree or disagree that Ed Miliband is ready to be Prime Minister?”, the Labour leader recorded a dismal 24% support (with only a third of that agreeing strongly), with a crushing 66% disagreeing (two-thirds strongly).
The full implications of those numbers don’t become apparent until you look back at the historical record of Ipsos asking the same question about various opposition leaders, which shows a remarkable 100% consistency. (Click image to enlarge.)
In the past 19 years, NOT ONCE has a party leader with a negative overall score on the “readiness” question won the keys to 10 Downing Street. Two years out from the 1997 election, Tony Blair already had a +20 rating. His three unsuccessful Tory challengers (William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard) never managed better than -13 at any point during their leaderships, and usually much lower.
Two years out from the 2010 election David Cameron was on a 0 score, which improved to a strongish +12 in the weeks before the vote, and he still couldn’t secure a majority. More than halfway through Cameron’s first term, Miliband is recording a desperate -42. Not since Iain Duncan Smith’s catastrophic -51 in 2003, just weeks before the Tories gave him the boot, has any opposition leader sunk lower.
Unless, that is, you count Miliband Minor’s own barrel-scraping -52 in 2011. In two years of leadership, Not-Red Ed has only achieved a 5% swing in faith among the British electorate, and with his party’s fortunes on the wane it seems somewhat optimistic to imagine that he might manage a further 22% swing between now and May 2015 (assuming the coalition lasts that long).
Even as Cameron and Osborne frantically drive nails into the UK’s economic coffin, even as the nation sheds triple-A credit ratings like cats moulting fur in summer, even as unemployment soars and we head for the third dip of the longest rollercoaster recession in history, the people of Britain still think Ed Miliband would do even worse. And while you can never discount events in politics (warning: link contains Quote Nazis), no would-be PM has ever pulled off such a turnaround in living memory.
For those of us currently resident south of the border, in the full glare of the Cameronian Ultra-Neo-Thatcherist State, these stats are bittersweet news at best. But they’re a vital reality check for anyone in Scotland who thinks it’s safe to vote No next year in the belief that Labour is about to ride to their rescue.