Magazine article The Spectator

It's Cameron's Political Language That Is Doing for Brown

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Cameron's Political Language That Is Doing for Brown

Article excerpt

Washington

My Labour friends insist that the public just doesn't know Gordon Brown the way Labour insiders do -- that when the public gets to see Brown as leader, which could come any day now, they will warm to him. I expect the opposite -- on the basis of many hours spent researching the thinking of voters on both sides of the Atlantic. Successive telephone polls and focus groups have shown that voters trust him but don't like him. More importantly, while they overwhelmingly approve of his job performance, they have serious doubts about him assuming the top position. Put simply, they like the idea of Chancellor Brown but have serious doubts about Prime Minister Brown.

And it's not just my own research. The Guardian/ICM poll this week gives a Tory party led by David Cameron a 13 per cent lead over a Labour party led by Gordon Brown. Right now, there is a remarkable similarity between the political mood over here and what we saw expressed at the US polls last November.

The problem with Mr Brown isn't a lack of familiarity; it is over-familiarity. Much the same is true of America, where the electorate threw out the Republican party in 2006 because they saw Republican senators, Republican congressmen and a Republican president who had grown stale and were desperately short on new ideas. Just last week, a united and newly minted Democratic congressional majority, along with more than a handful of Republicans, passed a resolution criticising President Bush over the war in Iraq. The public has spoken, and Congress has obeyed.

The British electorate has a similar fatigue with the Labour party. At some point in every government, the voters and their chosen political partners decide to part ways because it just isn't working any more, no matter how tight the relationship once seemed to be.

Gordon Brown certainly has his admirers.

Labour party members will tell you, mistyeyed, about Brown's maiden speech at Westminster and how he excoriated the Thatcher government's record on unemployment. Later, when the employment minister, Norman Tebbit, asserted that thousands of jobs had been generated in window-cleaning, Brown bellowed in a Scottish rumble from the backbenches, 'Perhaps the Minister thinks we should become a nation of window-cleaners!' It was powerful. It was brilliant. It was that mixture of humour and genuine outrage that made the politics of the 1980s so compelling.

It was also, without doubt, the real Gordon Brown -- a political battering-ram armed to the teeth with statistics and Scottish ire who dispensed with political foes with rhetorical relish. The trouble for Mr Brown is that it was also a quarter of a century ago. Politics has changed. Britain has changed. Gordon Brown has not changed, say the floating voters I've interviewed.

Now consider David Cameron. In his maiden speech in 2001 he praised his Labour constituency predecessor and, rather than picking fights over Europe or fox-hunting, focused on saving his local hospital from 'that dreaded Rword, rationalisation'. Then, as now, he sought to reach across the political divide with an equal measure of pleasantry and passion.

This was -- and is -- the public David Cameron, a man driven by purpose rather than partisanship, declaration rather than division, a real person more than a policy wonk. He may not play well within the Conservative think-tank community, but he does play well among the electorate.

What the floating voters who attend my Instant Response sessions appreciate most about the boyish Conservative leader is his willingness to rise above 'yaa-boo' politics, even if some of the old guard sneer. His words champion issues for which there is scope for agreement and action, much to the irritation of Mr Brown, who was blooded in the overheated rhetoric of the 1980s. The Environment, Darfur, the National Health Service aren't traditional Conservative issues, but they are at the heart of Mr Cameron's communication and dedication -- and his words are astonishingly successful. …

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