Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Focus group blues for Brown

The US pollster Frank Luntz has conducted a focus group where he asked thirty potential Labour supporters* who they would prefer to lead the Labour party. It seems it isn't Gordon Brown.

What was interesting was that a third of them objected to Brown being Scottish. This, I think, tends to show that the nationality question is going to be an issue in the next General Election in a way it has never been in this country before.

If this is so, the English will be importing a dimension into their politics that has been operating here for years.

I regret this very much. The problem with notions of national identity is that they become repositories for other ideas that are, or at least should be, more relevant. Playing the nationalist card is too tempting because it links policy preferences to deep emotions. So much easier to argue against monetarism, the poll tax, unemployment or whatever when you can claim all of these are the product of an essentially English government.

For those of us who don't believe in nationalism this was a mistake. You could argue that what is happening here is a case of nationalist chickens coming home to roost - although I'd have to say I don't think many people up here objected to Thatcher solely because of her national identity. Yet given the profile of the group, this seems to be precisely what is happening to Gordon Brown.

Still, maybe it shouldn't be taken too seriously; this focus group with its ten members who object to Scottishness chose, erm, John Reid as their preferred candidate.

*One third were loyal Labourites, one third were Labour leaners. One third were floating voters who cast ballots for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats but would consider switching to Labour if it chose the right leader.

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