It was nearly a year ago that David Cameron’s Tory leadership bid was resurrected. ‘That speech’, an impressive campaign launch and a faltering David Davis all boosted Mr Cameron’s fortunes but there was also an important fourth factor – ‘the Luntz effect’.
A focus group by US consultant Frank Luntz found a very positive reaction to Mr Cameron from floating voters and it helped power the Cameron surge.
Mr Luntz has now carried out another focus group (for Newsnight) and has this time compared the possible contenders for the Labour leadership. His conclusions appear in an article for The Times and they’re bad news for Gordon Brown. People found the Chancellor dour, responsible for ‘the coup’ against Blair and Scottish. Luntz was surprised at the Scottish thing:
"Almost half the group opposed being led by a Scotsman. I pushed them hard — and they pushed back. “It’s not racist. I want someone who is English running England."
"Only a fraction of our participants could name Mr Reid just from his photograph. But two words immediately came to mind as their familiarity grew: “strong” and “tough”. In the on-air battle between Mr Reid and Jeremy Paxman, half thought Paxman won, but the other half saw in Reid’s refusal to back down a demonstration of backbone and the determination they want in their next leader. The single most well received language of the evening was Mr Reid’s declaration that “a court judgment that put the human rights of foreign prisoners ahead of the right to safety of UK citizens is wrong. Full stop. No qualifications”. His anti-criminal, pro-victim rhetoric communicated an essential personal attribute that the rest of the Labour leadership is missing — genuine listening. “He’s listening to the people on the streets.” Mr Reid has two characteristics the voters did not like in Gordon Brown: age and a Scottish ancestry. But they didn’t seem to mind. To them, he is “action, not talk”."
Mr Reid’s toughness will certainly be a contrast to Mr Cameron’s smoothness and would potentially be a powerful asset if the international security situation deteriorates.
Alan Johnson comes off well but less well than Mr Reid. There is newspaper speculation this morning about a Johnson-Reid ticket. Remember where you heard that before?
There we are then or are we? I have one big question about Luntz’s approach. The thirty members of his focus group all appear to be conventional floating voters… "One third," he reports, "were loyal Labourites. One third were Labour-leaners. And one third were floating voters who cast ballots for the Tories or the Liberal Democrats but would consider switching to Labour if it choose the right leader." I’d like to know if all of these floaters are pretty determined to vote. As Stephan Shakespeare has written on this site, David Cameron, the man crowned by Luntz’s focus group last year, is perfectly pitched for those floating between the main parties but is not reaching those who are floating between voting and not voting (the floating non-voters) who see all the parties as the same.
Anyhow: My £10 bet on John Reid being the next Labour leader looks a little more promising this morning.