Mike Smithson today asks “How will the Lib Dems cope when the Blair era ends?” His reason for this is that whenever pollsters ask how people would vote if Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, there is a consistent shift from Lib Dem to Labour. He goes on to say:
Yet judging by the blogs of Lib Dem activists the obsession is still David Cameron and their loathing of him. Thereâ€™s little serious attention to what happens when the Labour leadership changes – something that now seems more imminent than it did.
I’m not sure that Lib Dem bloggers are “obsessed” about David Cameron. He gets a lot of things written about him because he’s relatively new and has a radically different take to his predeccessors. As familiarity sets in, he is likely to be mentioned less and less.
Why aren’t Lib Dems all a-quiver at the thought of Prime Minister Brown? I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally it is for a very simple reason: Gordon Brown does not really exist.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not suggesting that there isn’t literally a bloke who lives in No 11 Downing Street and is Chancellor of the Exchequor. But that isn’t the Gordon Brown that these fair-weather Lib Dem supporters are thinking of when they say they would vote Labour if he was made First Lord of the Treasury. The bloke they think of is believes in civil liberties, embraces the localism agenda, wouldn’t have got us into the Iraq war, wants electoral reform, is kind to fluffy bunny rabbits and is so Old Labour that he regularly wears a cloth cap, races pigeons on weekends and is always sticking ferrets down his trousers. This mythical being is a construct of fantasy authors such as Jackie Ashley and Polly Toynbee, the Inklings of modern times.
Robert Harris gave this myth a good debunking earlier this week, and now Brendan O’Neill is getting in on the act. I’m sure that the Lib Dem-voting Brown supporters will be entirely unaffected from such reasoned argument until the REAL Gordon Brown is in Number 10.
When that happens, I’m personally pretty confident that the disappointment will be palpable. Indeed I suspect that many people are still telling people they vote Labour because they are hoping that when the mythical Gordon Brown takes over, all will be right with the world. When this myth is washed away, if anything I suspect you will see an even greater exodus reflected in the opinion polls.
A lot will depend on when Blair goes. The problem for Labour is that if Blair goes too soon then Brown will have his true, erm, colours revealed too early. But if he goes too late, then he won’t have had enough time to put his own personal stamp on things. Personally, I predict that whenever Blair goes, we will see a general election less than a year later. THAT is what Lib Dem activists should be worried about, not Brown himself.
The myth of Gordon Brown is a major weakness of Labour’s. When it is finally exposed, they will face an unprecidented existential crisis. If there is a debate in Lib Dem circles to be had, it is how we capitalise on this crisis when it comes.